Take That, R.E.Clark….

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Among the points highlighted in Clark’s recent article trashing serious games are that “…the research shows no instructional advantages of games over the other instructional approaches (such as lectures)…” and that “only poorly designed studies find learning benefits from games“.

And yet, we all know that listening to lectures is quite passive while doing something with what you are learning is much more active and leads to better retention. Learning by doing beats learning by listening. This came across slashdot yesterday: “‘Like humans, monkeys benefit enormously from being actively involved in learning instead of having information presented to them passively,’ said Nate Kornell, a UCLA postdoctoral scholar in psychology and lead author of the study, which appears in the August issue of the journal Psychological Science. ‘The advantage of active learning appears to be a fundamental property of memory in humans and nonhumans alike.'” http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/08/070801161511.htm

I also found this bit interesting: “The findings were somewhat unintuitive, because passively using the hint appeared to enhance performance during the study phase of the experiment but had a deleterious effect on long-term learning,” Kornell said. Continue reading

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R.E.Clark is at it again….

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Clark, R. E. (2007). Learning from Serious Games? Arguments, Evidence, and Research Suggestions. EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, May-June 2007, 56-59.

Richard E. Clark says, “My goal in this column is to offer a brief view of the current state of the evidence for the educational benefit of games, discuss a few problems with existing studies, make some suggestions for the design of game studies, and suggest a possible application of games in order to invite a discussion about the design of future serious game research, evaluation, and implementation.”

For those who aren’t familiar with this person, R.E.Clark is the “nay” side of the famous Clark-Kozma debate. So, no surprize that this author would claim that games don’t make any difference. It is simply the same argument moved to a new medium. I wonder if Dr. Clark plays any games himself, or if he is forming his opinion based on, as Harlan Ellison would say, “idiot hearsay”.

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Visual-Syntactic Text Formatting

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It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything really new when it comes to presenting text, but this one looks like it has a lot of potential. Here is a link to the original article (the samples below come from there):


The technique described in this paper turns this:




For online reading this looks like a terrific idea.

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Software Ethology, a new approach to design and analysis

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I have recently been working on a new methodology for the analysis of commercial video games in order to uncover mechanisms used to support learning. I am calling this new approach Instructional Ethology. It combines
structural analysis based on black box reverse engineering (adapted from ontological excavation) with behavioural analysis based on an adaptation of the basic approach to studying animal behaviour. (For more as it develops see: http://www.minkhollow.ca/KB/PhD/Thesis07/doku.php?id=thesis:06.methodology)

It occurs to me that this methodology could also have much broader applications in software generally – as a way to analyse usability. It obviously needs development and lots of testing, but as far as I know *no-one* has thought off applying ethological techniques to program behaviour. As for “Why ANIMAL behaviour and not human behaviour studies?” Animals can’t talk to us so all we have is observations of behaviour. This is the same position that most users of software are in – they have no clue what is happening underneath (nor should they have to, mostly) so code analysis is unlikely to provide insights to making software more usable/intuitive/comprehensible to users. So perhaps, software ethology has some potential.

There is a wonderful article about Usable GUI design at http://benroe.com/files/gui.html; one of the best things to remember is:

The most basic point in all computer UI design is that the user does not want to use your application. They want to get their work done as quickly and easily as possible, and the application is simply a tool aiding that. The more you can keep your application out of the way of the user, the better. Effort spent on using your application is effort not spent on the work the user is trying to do.

This connects very nicely with studying UI design by studying the behaviour of the program.

Stay tuned.

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On Game Length

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On Game Length

[started Dec. 4 2006] http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20061201/qotw_01.shtml Talks about the length of games.

This is of value to me because [I say] long games are ill-suited to school environments.
School learning comes in bite-sized chunks, single lessons; units that last a few weeks. Unless we begin to require dozens of hours in homework, there is no way for games to fit into formal school environments. It may be part of the reason why puzzle games predominate when it comes to school games. Their length is better suited to the environment than a game like Oblivion.

I think that many modern games are *not* suited for use in schools because of the time commitment required to play them vs. what we can get out of them in terms of meeting outcomes. That also means that the model provided by such games may not be especially useful for ed-games. A game that takes 100 hours to complete is just not going to work in school, whereas a 10-hour game might. Even if the 100-hour game were to match perfectly with a whole pile of general outcomes, it is still a huge time commitment. The amount of flexibility around the time commitment for any game is going to depend (at least in part) on what level of organization the ‘schedule’ is set at. In other words, if the province sets the amount of time available for something we have almost no hope of affecting that; if it is done at the board level the chances are better but the case still has to be made that this change will be good for all schools in the district. However, if the decision is school-based we have the greatest chance of influence.

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On Wasting Valuable Lesson Time

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On “wasting valuable lesson time”

We must.

When ‘content’ is stripped of its context, which MUST include those pesky extraneous details, it becomes disconnected.

No wonder learners can’t remember stuff. Virtually all of the memory tricks we use to help us remember things involve some way to attach the thing we are learning to something meaningful to us. If ‘we trim the fat’ from our lessons in an effort to make it more efficient (i.e. if we take away the bits that are not directly relevant to our ‘content’) we also remove the context which is so crucial for anchoring learning.

Case in point:

I find politics tedious. I especially find American politics tedious (I’m not American). However, I have come to really (I mean REALLY) like the television show West Wing. While watching, I have learned WAY more about American politics and their political system than I ever really wanted to. It makes watching the Bush and Cheney show quite frightening. http://www2.warnerbros.com/web/westwingtv/index.jsp?frompage=sitemap

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The Massively Multi-Player Online School

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

A typical encounter at a yet-to-be built massively multiplayer online school:

Suddenly, Amy realized that unless they all worked together, they wouldn’t get out alive. She wiggles the fuzzy slippers dangling from her swinging feet and glances out the window as if looking for an answer.

She had miscalculated, and now they didn’t have enough fuel left to make it to the landing strip. After several abbreviated (cryptic) messages back and forth, all five members of the crew agreed that this would be as good a time as any to test whether or not the wing modifications they introduced yesterday would have the desired effect. Penny was in charge of gathering weather data – they needed to plot a new flight path that would take advantage of the winds and updrafts in light of their wing mods to save fuel. Kevin’s job was to locate alternate landing sites – they had to coordinate closely to make sure they found a place that would not only allow them to touch down without too much damage to the landing gear, but also take advantage of the winds currents. Each time they found another possible site, Mick and Krista would run several simulated landings to see what their chances for success were. Amy asks her mom if lunch will be ready soon – all this excitement is making her hungry.

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There are no wrong answers

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I was at a conference recently, at a workshop where we were given an exercise that included a brainstorming activity.

Among the guidelines was the now-all-too-common refrain: “There are NO wrong answers!”


There are too wrong answers!

Plenty of them.

There are even dumb answers. BUT….

We should still be encouraged to try them out. How will we know they are wrong or dumb if we never give them voice? Claiming there are no wrong answers is one of those warm-and-fuzzy sophisms that, in the long run, causes more problems than it solves. In a subtle and subversive way it erodes our willingness to take risks by claiming there is no risk. Risk-taking is essential to learning.

What’s wrong with admitting that there really ARE wrong answers, but that it’s OK to state them???? After all, don’t we learn from mistakes? What’s so bad about making mistakes? If the study of digital games has taught me anything, it is that making mistakes in a safe environment is a great way to learn stuff.

So rather than misleading people by pretending “there are no wrong answers”, how about if we start to admit “It’s OK to be wrong here.”

Note: There are still some places where it’s really not OK to be wrong, like life-threatening emergencies. In most learning environments it IS OK to be wrong though – and the risk-taking that is associated with the possibility of being wrong should be both encouraged and supported.

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