Thursday, January 31, 2008

Learning Games with Neverwinter Nights

Neverwinter Nights is attracting a bit of interest for educational games because of the ability to do mods with its Aurora Tools. NWN is your classic 3D dungeons type game, it can be played single player or multiplayer. Its a bit like WoW and other games where your avatar has an inventory, health and other attributes and goes on quests. Aurora Tools is a level editor, like all those editors in strategy games, but it includes a scripting language and is very sophisticated in what it can do.

So what can you do educationally? You can run round killing stuff, explore dungeons, collect items and talk to NPC's. The ability to customise dialogue is a lot of what is interesting educators. You can deliver content, declarative knowledge. It also has prospects for procedural knowledge, problem solving. It is not too hard to drive and kids could make their own educational games. The best way to learn something is to teach it. It would lend itself to kids making a game in a second language, its style and dialogue editor lean towards text rich games. Kids could make an educational game in any area, learning content, problem solving, programming and computer skills.

I purchased NWN Diamond Edition (from Amazon).

First to note is that you need a DVD drive
Win 98+
P3 800MHz +
128MB, 4 GB, 32MB video

Out of the box, it wont run on Vista but can be patched, see tech support, also I had problems with the CD keys, if it happens to you see also tech support.

After playing the Prelude level, it was time to play with Aurora Tools. There is no help packaged with Aurora Tools but Google found me a tute at

The learning game that you create is a module. Each module is made of a number of areas. The areas might be outside and inside a house or different caverns in a dungeon, but they are areas connected by doors. Each area is loaded separately in memory so there is really no geographical relationship between areas, you effectively teleport out one door of one area and into the door onf another. Like Dr Who's Tardis, there need not be a correspondence with the inside and outside shape of a building.

When you start Aurora, a wizard prompts you to use a tileset, interior, exterior, dungeon etc. For my first area, area1 I chose a city interior. In Aurora, the top view looks like this.

The symbol in the centre is the player's start position. You can run the game (build test module) or F9. Here is a screenshot of the game playing, you can walk round the room.

Quit out of the game and go back to Aurora. On the right hand side is the menu of things you can add. If you click on the "paint terrain" button you get a list of rooms that you can add to the area.

If you click on "paint creatures" you get a list of creatures you can add.

First time I tried it I added a dwarf to the room. When I ran the game the dwarf immediately attacked and killed me. LOL
Add a girl on the human category to the area. Then open the conversation editor (tools conversation editor) Click on add. You can build up a "conversation tree" as shown

The NPC (girl) says the text in red, the blue items are the possible player responses. I saved the conversation as conversation1 and closed the editor.

Right click on the girl and click properties
At the bottom of the dialogue box, select conversation1 for the conversation
Close the dialogue box and press F9 to run the game. Left mouse click will initiate a conversation with the girl.

Next to create an outside area and doors (as in

Click "paint terrain" and add corridor exit

and add to the area

Then run the area wizard to create a second area (wizard area wizard), Name area002, rural tileset, medium size.

Add a house, (paint terrain, features, house1)

Then add a door to the door opening(paint doors, tileset specific, door)

Paint the start location outside the house in area 2

Add a door to the door opening in the inside scene, area1. Right click on one of the doors on the list on the LHS, eg the door in area 1, properties, area transition tab, destination type door, set up area transition.

The target area is area2, target type door, connection type both ways, select the door. Yes, Yes,Yes to confirmation.

Run the game, you can walk inside and talk to the girl.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

How Computer Games Help Children Learn

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Williamson Shaffer, D. (2006). How Computer Games Help Children Learn. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 978-1403975058

Schaffer believes that learning should be based on the kind of tasks professionals go about in their working lives. He includes the concepts of relevelence and authenticity but takes it a little further in that relevant and authentic learning should be modelled as closely as possible on the kinds of thinking professionals use in their work.

In each of the chapters he introduces a "game" that could be played in a different learning domain. In some chapters, computer games exist which can fill the role of an "epistemic game" in other chapters he talks of classroom activities which enlightened teachers are already using which would lend themselves to a computer game. Chapter by chapter he considers:

Chapter 1 Debating, the Spanish/American war
Chapter 2 Physics, designong with Soda Constructor
Chapter 3 Mathematics, Geometers sketchpad
Chapter 4 Negotiation, bioethics
Chapter 5 Journalism
Chapter 6 Urban Science (God games), Sim City, Zoo Tycoon

Introduction and Chapter 1
The opening pages could be interpreted as an appeal to xenophobia. It talks of America's competitive edge. I think that if any child does not achieve their potential, it is a tragedy, regardless if the child lives in the poorest country in Africa or the world's richest nation. Though it is interesting to look at the PISA data which ranks America educationally below many poorer countries.

The author talks of the need to teach students to be innovative, its worth looking at the Victorian Essential Learning Standards which tackles this issue. I have analysed the VELS in the context of games here.

I like the following from the author "Standardised testing produces standardised skills"

The author talks of the computer as a transformative technology. Other transformative technologies were movable type and film, see more here.

I worry that the author is only talking about epistemic games and ignoring other types of playful learning.

He says "many young people lack role models and mentors" does he ignore the very large amount of mentoring already happening in World of Warcraft?

He talks of the power of simulations (p9) for my view on simulations see here.

Chapters 2 & 3
Chapters 2 & 3 continue the theme of chapter 1 which was in the domain of history. Chapter 2 talks of creating physics simulations and chapter 3 maths simulations.

In chapter 2, kids are given authentic and relevant physics problem solving using Soda Constructor . (I have used it for simulations of forces in a truss.) Digital Zoo was a set of design activities based round Soda Constructor. After playing the game, students design plans became 55% more complex , students considered 47% more features in making a decision, many were considering engineering as a career and 40% had their poster presentation on a wall at home. These are significant outcomes.

In chapter 3 , Geometer's Sketchpad provides similar problem solving in mathematics.

Though Shaffer stresses the epistemic side, the need for kids to think like professionals might, the ideas are not new. They have their roots in the work of Papert with Logo, and its offshoots like Microworlds. That is that kids can be creators rather than consumers of technology. Computers can create microworlds or enriched "sandpits" for deep thinking.

Schaffer explains how mathematical concepts are not made relevant and authentic by embedding them in a real world narrative, they are visual concepts and need to be solved hands on. It should be noted that Geometer's Sketchpad is one of a number of applications that can put maths in a real, hands on, visual context, Logo was the first, later improved by Game Maker, Etoys and Scratch but see
for a few more.

Arguably, the "desk Review" epistemic process is already around in the concepts of peer tutoring and the idea of public performance in constructioNism.

Chapter 4
Negotiation based on the mutual gains approach by Fisher & Ury. A classroom activity negotiations between stakeholders in a hypothetical xenotransplantation project, growing human organs in pigs.

Chapter 5 is a journalism game. After playing 60% mentioned their readers when describing journalism vs. 20%. Before the game, they were 8 times more likely to describe science in terms of school subjects and topics rather than impact on society.

He talks of communities of practice and learning through participations in such communities. He talks of accuracy and verification and formulaic writing and the information needs of citizens in a democratic society.

What he does not acknowlege is that the "free press" produces editorial material, primarily as a wrapper for advertising content and that the community of practice serves this need. A community of practice approach is at risk of producing narrow thinking which is not consistent with the opening of the book which talks of producing innovative thinkers who will think outside the square and respond to a changing world.

Journalism's formulaic approach is most obvious in the TV news man/woman anchor formula. Similarly tabloid print media. Many have rejected this form of journalism and turn to the internet as their news source. I see parallels in my enginerring work. Engineering managers and production managers of large companies have a community of practice. They tend to think and talk the same way. Companies are changing and many have adopted triple bottom line at board level but their engineering managers, locked into their communities of practice with incestuous thinking, are poorly adapted to change. They lack the necessary flexibility of thinking to adapt to changing conditions.

Chapter 6 The future: Urban Science
Urban Science is a "God game" like Sim City or the Tycoon series. The players take the (epistemic) roles of urban planners. After playing, players concept maps became more complex making 72% more connections.

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The kids are alright

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Beck, J. C., & Wade, M. (2006). The Kids are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace (Paperback). Boston: Harvard Business School. 978-1422104354

Having read the introduction and chapter 1 of this book and skimmed the rest here are my thoughts. The authors believe that the "gamer generation" is a distinct group, more distinct than generations X and Y. They have been shaped by playing games and as they enter the workplace, they will think and behave differently to the generations that preceded them.

They make the same assertion as Prensky that their brains are actually wired differently.

Prensky has been criticised for this and other bold claims by

Mc Kenzie
and others

They base much of their assertions on a survey of 2500 Americans which asked 16 questions. The survey does indicate that those who describe themselves as game players do hold different attitudes to those who don't. They are more competitive, more motivated, better networkers and bigger risk takers. What the survey does not indicate is causality. Did the games cause these traits or are people with these traits more attracted to games? I am unconvinced.

The book was published in 2006 but written earlier. It possibly suffers from the delays of publication. For example, there no discussion of World of Warcraft (that I noticed). Some of the thinking may have groundbreaking when written but it has been eclipsed by more recent web based discussion.

Other comments,
they do not clearly define the term "gamer generation",
there are some slippery terms, eg 92% have regular access to games while only 80% live in houses with computers
"the gaming experience is basically solitary" try to sell that to a WoW player!
"gamers learned how to manipulate electronic information" my links above dispute this assertion, the gamer generation is not good at this.
"gamers, who intuitively understand each other" really?

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Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Research Review

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Using Computer Games and Simulations for Instruction:
A Research Review
J. D. Fletcher Sigmund Tobias

This is one of a number of literature reviews of games in education. Others include:

Research Centre for Technology Enhanced Learning
Computer Games for Teaching and Learning

Becta - Impact of ICT in schools: a landscape review

Digiplay Initiative: Games Research Bibliography

Department of Industrial Design

Futurelab - literature review in games and learning

The use of computer and video games for learning A review of the literature Alice Mitchell and Carol Savill-Smith


Classification of learning outcomes: evidence from the computer games literature Harold F. O’Neil, Richard Wainess and Eva L. Baker

learning patterns for the design and deployment of mathematical games

In his review of literature reviews
John Kirriemuir, Groundhog Day for Games in Learning
Kirriemuir likens literature reviews to the movie Ground Hog Day. He says "The relatively small amount of genuine and novel research in the field – to date – results in substantial duplication of content, references and discussion ... Unless there is analysis of the literature ... then it doesn’t add anything new to the knowledge base."

As Kirriemuir might predict, there are 2 1/2 pages describing the industry. "Providing an “introduction to games” results in a load of flannel that can be read in any of 10,000 other media. Text such as “Many people now own a Playstation 2, which is made by
Sony yadda yadda yadda” dates horribly."

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Web Playgrounds of the Very Young
Published: December 31, 2007

This article contends that "children’s entertainment companies are greatly accelerating efforts to build virtual worlds for children" Club Penguin, Webkinz and Neopets are quoted as such sites. This is because the Internet has supplanted TV as kids' primary entertainment. "For nearly 50 years, since the start of Saturday morning cartoons, the television set has served as the front door to the children’s entertainment business. ...Now the proliferation of broadband Internet access is forcing players to rethink the ways they reach young people"

Such sites are clearly not new. They omit from discussion the long running site Gunbound which was launched in 2002 ( and Runescape, which was established 2002 and now has 750,000 players, ( also gets little mention.

What implications do these sites have for education? They indicate that there is demand from younger children for websites which give a feeling of community, often enhanced by personal avatars which create a sense of identity. There are already a plethora of educational games sites with differing levels of membership and identification:

The business model used by these kids' games sites might give some indication as to how educational sites might be self-funding "Some sites are free and rely on advertising to make money; others are advertising and subscription hybrids." For example with Gunbound and Runescape, you can open a free account and usually access the full gaming environment. You are also offered additional stuff for a small fee, a dollar or so, it might be something like a different costume or a magic staff. Because the incremental cost of servicing a user account is so low, these sites are viable despite minimal contributions on a per player basis. If educational sites can get the mix right, they might be viable on the same basis.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Shouldn't we base our educational systems primarily on Play?

I was asked "shouldn't we base our entire educational systems primarily on Play?", I think not, but we should use all we know about play to guide education.

School is a new invention, it is only a couple of hundred of years old. Before that, learning alongside adults also contributed to children's development. Children would learn alongside adults in the field, the kitchen and at the forge. Call it apprenticeship learning. Schools became necessary after the industrial revolution in part to free adults from childcare. Also, as society becomes more complex, some kinds of learning become too specialised to learn in a village apprenticeship way.

The points here are that

* play was never enough on its own
* school performs purposes other than learning
* the needs of society have changed since play evolved in mammals

It is time, now that technology gives us options, to reconsider the teacher at the blackboard in front of a class of children. It was only ever a stopgap compromise. We should consider what we know of play and learning and see if we can improve on the "talk and chalk" model.

Learning is best if it is authentic, like apprenticeship. It is much more motivating if you can produce something real and of value to others. Perhaps this was what Papert meant with constructionism (the N word not the V word) that learning "happens especially felicitously in a context where the learner is consciously engaged in constructing a public entity, whether it's a sand castle on the beach or a theory of the universe"

Learning is best when it is relevant, when you can see that what you are learning will actually be useful to you.

There must be a balance between effort and achievement or reward. Too hard and you give up, too easy and you are bored. (I read somewhere that motivation is highest when the chance of success is 50%). You can visualise effort and achievement (reward) as two curves that have to match. We are familiar with the initial learning hump where effort is not matched by achievement/reward .

Immediate feedback. Problem solving in games works well when you can quickly test your hypothesis. The problem solving process works like the debugging process that computer programmers are familiar with. You test, arrive at a hypothesis or solution and then implement. When the implement & test part of the cycle is quick, as in programming, you spend most of your time in the cognitive conflict or cognitive dissonance part of the cycle. This is where the real cognitive development occurs. It is very frustrating but it is almost addictively motivating. Ask any computer programmer or game player whether they have still been on the computer at 3am. "I'll just fix this program bug...." or "I'll just add some more roads to my Sim City...."

Peer tutoring. Rather than locking kids into a competitive process through assessment, they should be placed in an environment where they can cooperate too. Then you can have a class full of teachers. The best way to learn is to teach something. See Is the emphasis on assessment an attempt to motivate kids through competition in the otherwise boring environment of "talk and chalk" classrooms? I read somewhere that less than 15% of teachers use assessment as feedback to tailor how and what students learn.

An example of a cross curriculum games based project is at

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Thursday, January 17, 2008

Making Learning Fun, A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning

Here I continue discussion of readings for Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545,

Making Learning Fun, A Taxonomy of Intrinsic Motivations for Learning
Malone and Lepper
In Aptitude Learning and Instruction Ed. Snow

The authors seek to set up instructional environments that are intrinsically motivating. They look to computer games and their motivating features.

They quote "The will to learn is an intrinsic motive, one that finds both its source and its reward in its own exercise. The will to learn becomes a 'problem' only under specialized circumstances like those of a school, where a curriculum is set, students confined and a path fixed" (Bruner)

This is possibly not quite the same as the Crawford position that play IS learning (The Art of Computer Game Design

They propose these classes of motivation:


In a study of game preferences of 65 elementary elementary school students (Malone 1981), they found the following correlation with preference:

Goal 0.65**
computer keeps score 0.56**
Audio effects 0.51**
Randomness involved in game 0.48**
Speed of answers counts 0.36*
Visual effects 0.34
Competition 0.31
Variability difficulty level 0.17
Cooperation 0.02
Fantasy 0.06
Graphic game 0.38*
Math game -0.2
Word game -0.38

It is noted that those correlations marked with ** have 98% confidence (p<0.02) and
those marked with * have 95% confidence(p<0.05). If (p<0.05), one can not state with any confidence that there is any correlation, any observed correlation is statistically insignificant because of the sample size.

Malone and Lepper are often quoted on the importance of endogenous fantasy. It is noteworthy that in this study, fantasy had no effect on player preference whatever.

Also, this study finds no correlation with cooperation. Cooperation is often quoted by higher level players of World of Warcraft as a strong motivator. WoW is highly successful with more than 6 million paid subscribers It should be noted that at the time of the study, 1981, computer games were quite unsophisticated by today's standards.

Habgood conducted an experiment to see if children would create a learning game with endogenous or exogenous fantasy, they created games without fantasy. This indicates that fantasy may not play an inportant role in motivation.

Also, there was little evidence of fantasy in games made in a computer club,

Malone & Lepper go on to say "fantasy ... is clearly important in many kinds of intrinsically motivating activities, such as computer games, television, reading, and dramatic play (cf Singer 1973)" (Singer 1973 The child's World of make-believe

I have not read Singer's book but I doubt Singer was commenting on computer games, computer games barely, if at all, existed then

Many computer games have a back story, often told in the opening cinematics, but I doubt it plays a major factor in most gamers' enjoyment.

Did Malone & Lepper ignore their own data? It looks a bit as if they allowed their own assumptions to override their experimental data.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545, University of North Dakota

I have enrolled in Instructional Simulations & Games, IDT 545, at the University of North Dakota. It is offered as distance education and uses Adobe Connect Live Meeting for virtual face to face lectures.

You can read more on this course at

Following are my reviews of the first two weeks' readings. URL's have been given where possible but some were newspaper clippings. If you are interested you should be able to access the course materials by contacting Richard Van Eck

Johnson, Everything bad is good for you. pp1..62
Johnson in the foreword states that popular culture has grown more complex. I think it was Van Eck who pointed me to the Flynn Effect, that IQ is increasing with time, suggesting that it might even relate to games, at least it indicates that we are not becoming dumber. (podcast)

Are computer games mindless? One of my favourite quotes “The computer is a medium of human expression and if it has not yet had its Shakespeares, its Michelangelos or its Einsteins, it will. …. We have scarcely begun to grasp its human and social implications.”
Computer Criticism vs. Technocentric Thinking By Seymour Papert

Johnson talks about a baseball dice game. The baseball game story is good, it indicates that the essential features of game based learning predate even (our last week's class) text based dungeons.

He asks why kids would go to so much trouble to master games. I think the answer is that kids like to learn. They are pre-programmed learning machines.

"Games are thus the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don't see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don't see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, "Can games have educational value?" becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning."
Crawford, The Art of Computer Game Design

Give kids a relevant and authentic challenge and the right tools and you can't stop them.

McLuhan (at P15) is quoted. All new forms of media have been subjected to the same criticisms that games have, the written word, the novel, radio, film and TV. My thoughts at

At P19 he discusses a theoretical society that discovers video games before reading. He humorously pokes fun at narrow views about games, it seems a copy of Papert's writing on the use of computers in school where the nation of Foobar which has an oral culture discovers writing. Any way I agree.

His discussion of dopamine and addiction sharing a common root with enjoying games is not convincing. See my previous Crawford quote, we are pre-programmed to enjoy learning.

Much of the attraction of SimCity is in its tight debug cycle. Computer programmers know how programming is addictive.

SimCity and programming keep you in a tight cycle of: implement, test, debug. The debug part is the deep thinking part and is deliciously frustrating, we enjoy it because we are programmed to learn and solve problems. This is akin to where Gee is quoted on p44 on the probe, hypothesise cycle.

On p38 he says it is not the subject matter that attracts. I agree, Malone and Lepper are often quoted on fantasy and I am not convinced. See Habgood on fantasy.
In experiment to see if children would create a learning game with endogenous or exegonous fantasy, they created games without fantasy. Its the gameplay that counts not the fantasy.

On p40 Johnson identifies himself as a Constructivist, (References to Dewey).

Rieber, L. P. (1996). Seriously considering play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational Technology Research & Development, 44(2), 43-58

Rieber discusses the function of play. "play is traditionally viewed as applying only to young children. Play seems to be something you have to give up when you grow up" "the extensive research on play with children and adults in anthropology, psychology, and education indicates that play is an important mediator for learning and socialization throughout life"

I think it is possibly put better by Crawford "Games are thus the most ancient and time-honored vehicle for education. They are the original educational technology, the natural one, having received the seal of approval of natural selection. We don't see mother lions lecturing cubs at the chalkboard; we don't see senior lions writing their memoirs for posterity. In light of this, the question, "Can games have educational value?" becomes absurd. It is not games but schools that are the newfangled notion, the untested fad, the violator of tradition. Game-playing is a vital educational function for any creature capable of learning."
Crawford, The Art of Computer Game Design

He says that play should be seen in the context of three general educational philosophies: essentialism, progressivism, and existentialism. Perhaps the they could be called instructionism, constructivism and radical constructivism. Does this classification artificially place progressivism aka constructivism at the centre? What of the more extreme forms of essentialism, eg. Cognitive Load Theory and the works of Kirschner, Sweller & Clark "Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work"
and explicit instruction

Discussions during our class illustrated the differing philosophies. Discussion on the possible uses of Tetris for education ranged from essentialist "put the letters of the alphabet on the blocks to make words" to "use the game to learn concepts of shape and area".

Rieber states "the benefits of play are long-term - enabling intellectual and social
growth over many years . If, on the other hand, one is primarily interested in short-term gains on performance tests of narrow objectives, such as standardized achievement tests, the value of play becomes less evident" Playful learning is well suited to higher level tasks like problem solving and metacognitive skills. Evidence of short term gains of near transfer will be harder to find. Nevertheless there is some evidence, The Fifth Dimension Cognitive Evaluation, Final Report

Microworlds are discussed, of course Logo and Geometer's Sketchpad and Interactive Physics. Missing from the list are Game
Maker, Scratch and eToys

Rieber invokes Piagetian Learning Theory as a theoretical foundation of Self-Regulated Learning Within a Microworld. The concept of Epistemic conflict has been discussed by Forster and Gesthuizen "Games and Constructivism" as a motivating cycle of implement-test-debug similar to when computer programming and ascribe much of the motivation and cognitive gains to a tight cycle.

Gee is also quoted on a probe, hypothesise cycle in Johnson "Everything bad is good for you".

The implement-test-debug cycle also aligns well with Csikszentmihalyi's Flow theory.

The author states "a simulation-as-microworld must meet the "simplest case" principle. Of course, the simulation should be designed so that ideas expand as the learner is ready for them", this is the motivation behind reprogrammable learning objects,

Three systems are postulated in a simulation, the target system; the user's mental model; and a "conceptual" model of the target system. For more investigation of mental models and higher order thinking, see " Higher order thinking - a thought experiment"

There is more on Endogenous Fantasy (Lepper & Malone) and I refer to Habgood on fantasy.
In an experiment to see if children would create a learning game with endogenous or exegonous fantasy, they created games without fantasy. Its the gameplay that counts not the fantasy.

See for example, the physics game Linerider it is clearly not the fantasy that makes this a highly engaging game.

The author notes "Anthropologists have long viewed games as but one aspect of expressive
culture, or how people in a culture project their psychological dispositions" computer games have been used to support indigenous culture whilst providing a bridge to western culture,

eg. see
'Nibby' means sleepy lizard in the local language. The school garden project at Koonibba Aboriginal School served as the inspiration for the making of this game.
Created by:
Roxanne Dodd, Stephanie Dudley & Ian Martin
Koonibba Aboriginal School
Koonibba Community via Ceduna, South Australia

Project Waveplace's mission is clear: to create a thriving new industry in the Virgin Islands independent of tourism, one requiring no physical imports, no clearing of land, no retail space, no condos. This new industry will be a digital one: animation, illustration, photos, music, software. There's a world of media buyers on the Internet ready and willing to pay fair licensing fees for the right talent. Our plan is to teach Virgin Islanders to create with computers, so they can export their most stunning resource, their creativity.

Does Easy Do It? Children, Games, and Learning
By Seymour Papert

This is one of a number of articles by Papert at
All are well thought out, well written and well worth reading. Papert excels as a communicator and a deep thinker well ahead of his time. Considering the amount of resources that were directed into LOGO in the 1980's, the only disappointment is the lack of results. Though there are many case studies, they are strong on advocacy but weak on analysis.

The lack of analysis, ie. experimental data with controls is not surprising. Consider the views of Rieber, (Seriously considering play) "the benefits of play are long-term - enabling intellectual and social growth over many years . If, on the other hand, one is primarily interested in short-term gains on performance tests of narrow objectives, such as standardized achievement tests, the value of play becomes less evident".

In this article, Papert launches a full frontal attack on the Essentialist or Instructivist use of computer games for drill and practice calling them Shavian reversals—offspring that keep the bad features of each parent and lose the good ones. He notes that good play and good learning are not easy, it is hard but fun.

The terms "hard fun" and "choc coated broccoli" have often been used to characterise the constructivist and instructionist use of computer games.

Van Eck
“Digital Game- Based Learning It’s Not Just the Digital Natives Who Are Restless”
March/April 2006 EDUCAUSE review

In a thought provoking paper, Richard Van Eck suggests that proponents of digital game-based learning (DGBL) should move from the promotion of DGBL to a critical analysis of DGBL. “Like the person who is still yelling after the sudden cessation of loud music at a party” we now have the world’s attention and its time to do critical analysis of what exactly we are promoting.

He identifies three kinds of DGBL:

* have students build games;
* have educators and/or developers build educational games; and
* integrate commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) games into the classroom

He believes that student built games are not likely to be widely accepted because:

* not all teachers have the skill sets needed for game design,
* not all teach in areas that allow for good content,
* not all can devote the time needed to implement this type of DGBL,
* and many teach within the traditional institutional structure, which does not easily allow for interdisciplinarity.

At I question these reasons for overlooking student made games and argue that they are the area with the most prospects.

Designing Online Games Assessment as “Information Trails”
Christian Sebastian Loh
Curriculum & Instruction, College of Education & Human Services
Mail code 4610, Southern Illinois University Carbondale,

Loh argues for data tracking to be built into games to "help ... reconstruct users’ gaming decisions" and "to measure its effectiveness, or the return of investment" He notes that data tracking is increasingly technically feasible.

He talks of "Trails and Nodes" and data tracking when the learner meets key nodes. As I read the article, I am increasingly aware that he is considering instructionist or essentialist learning where there are predetermined items of content that must be learned. This is "learning on rails" even though the rails form a mesh like a non linear novel and the learner has choice which rails are followed in which order. Even though he states the approach can be used for "Open-ended and non-linear (constructivist approach) to close-ended and completely linear (instructivist approach)" it is difficult to see how it really does apply for constructivist learning. Constructivist learning is more than the non-linear progression through a set curriculum, it is about developing versatile thinkers, self directed learners and problem solvers.

When assessing self-directed constructivist learning, it is rarely the product (and hence the nodes) which can be usefully assessed, it is the learner's personal journey which matters. The most productive assessment are often the learners reflections, either in diary, blog or video form. A learner could put in a lot of deep thinking while traversing a few nodes.

The worked example uses Bejewled, it is clearly a drill and practice exercise.

While the paper is clearly an advance in demonstrating how data tracking in educational games could be used, there is a risk that, if such data mining became expected by the educational establishment, there could be pressure for games to concentrate at the lower levels of Bloom's Taxonomy ( and be used to teach
information and not achieve their potential for deep thinking and problem solving.

Is It Age or IT: First Steps Toward Understanding the Net Generation
Diana Oblinger
James Oblinger
North Carolina State University

The authors outline how the "Net Generation" differ from the other generations. They note that "age may be less important than exposure to technology".

The characteristics include:

the Net Gen is able to intuitively use a variety of IT devices and navigate the Internet
the Net Gen is always connected
the Net Gen is fast. They multitask
the Net Gen prefer to learn by doing rather by being told what to do
the Net Gen is a prolific communicator
The Net Gen often prefers to learn and work in teams
The Net Gen is very achievement oriented
the Net Gen is oriented toward inductive discovery
The Net Gen is more comfortable in image-rich environments than with text.
The Net Gen readily takes part in community activities.

Teachers, particularly IT teachers are often suspicious of these generalisations, holding that the Net Gen is not that different from preceding generations. Prensky holds more extreme views including claims that Net Gen's have brains that are wired differently. Prensky popularised the term "Digital Natives". Oblinger quotes extensively from Prensky. Prensky has been criticised by

Mc Kenzie
and others

Many of these criticisms also cast doubt on how different the Net Gen really are.

Voters Support Teaching of 21st Century Skills
Meris Stansbury

The author reports on a poll which she claims as evidence that momentum is building for the teaching of "21st Century Skills". The author's comments seem to indicate that the poll supports constructivist or progressivist views.

"88% of voters say they believe schools can and should incorporate 21st Century skills such as critical thinking and problem solving, communication and self direction and computer skills into the curriculum"

The author omits the fact that the strongest response was for reading comprehension which is not exclusively a 21st century skill.

This article appears to be based on a press release from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which appears to be a lobby group for educational computer technology suppliers.

Dropout Factories?
Nancy Zuckerbrod

The author says that there are 1700 High Schools in the US that fit the description of "Dropout Factory" with no more than 60% making it to senior year.The highest concentration is in large cities or high poverty rural areas in the south and southwest of USA.

Dropouts are a problem in high poverty areas around the world but the US has surprisingly low educational performance considering its high income.,3343,en_32252351_32236191_39718850_1_1_1_1,00.html

PISA is a triennial survey of the knowledge and skills of 15-year-olds. It is the product of collaboration between participating countries and economies through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and draws on leading international expertise to develop valid comparisons across countries and cultures. US performance is significantly below OECD average.

Concern about poor performance has contributed to the NCLB (no child left behind) policy which has shifted policy towards instructionist or essentialist learning. A keyword search indicates a considerable shift towards instructionism when compared to Australia, It also shows a higher interest in educational games in Australia. There is a swing towards instructionist or essentialist learning in Australia evident now, we lag behing the US in most things.

The author lists Four Winds Community High School in North Dakota USA as fitting the profile of a "dropout factory".

A search reveals that it serves an Indian community

It lists its goals as:
1. To provide a responsive and flexible educational program.
2. To develop student's feelings of positive identity and self-worth.
3. To develop an awareness of and pride in the Dakota heritage, values, language,
and culture.
4. To develop skills necessary for healthful and productive living.
5. To provide accessibility to the parents and community as well as recognition of
the vital role the parents and community play in learning.
6. To require high expectations of all staff that shall be sensitive to the unique
needs of all students.
7. To provide students, not only intellectual growth, but also physical, social, and
moral growth.
8. To heighten expectations of students to require strong basic skills which will
result in their ability to continue learning in all academic and other settings

These are goals for which game making has been suggested in other indigenous communities.

"Keep our diverse languages and cultural traditions by excelling in education and digital technologies, the only means of arresting the decline of our ancient and oral traditions" Noel Pearson, Australia

"Much trouble has come from people forgetting the land, the spirit. Many people are sick and have lost their spirit. The white government has cut their culture; we grieve for them. But we can all learn and make our spirit strong. My teaching is about opening your spirit, working together to build understanding. Opening our way, opening our hearts to share the spirit of the land with all who want to learn.” Nganyinytja an elder of the Pitjantjatjara people of Central Australia.

Programming computer games about traditional stories can be an excellent way to "develop student's feelings of positive identity and self-worth and develop an awareness of and pride in the heritage, values, language, and culture" while "excelling in education and digital technologies"

Read how game making was introduced into a predominantly aboriginal school, GameMaker at Gillen, Alice Springs by Kym Urquhart,

and see the award winning game by Koonibba Aboriginal School
'Nibby' means sleepy lizard in the local language. The school garden project at Koonibba Aboriginal School served as the inspiration for the making of this game.
Created by:
Roxanne Dodd, Stephanie Dudley & Ian Martin
Koonibba Aboriginal School
Koonibba Community via Ceduna, South Australia

See also the Waveplace proposal
"Project Waveplace's mission is clear: to create a thriving new industry in the Virgin Islands independent of tourism, one requiring no physical imports, no clearing of land, no retail space, no condos. This new industry will be a digital one: animation, illustration, photos, music, software. ... Our plan is to teach Virgin Islanders to create with computers, so they can export their most stunning resource, their creativity. "

See also the proposal for the OLPC ($100 laptop) for Vanuatu

Back to the article under review, the author continues under "finding a solution" to talk of punishing schools for low test scores, more reporting, data tracking and goals. Frankly this stuff depresses me for its lack of vision.

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