The ID / AI Connection

Approximate Reading Time: 2 minutes

I’ve noticed that quite a few big names in ID (Instructional Design: Papert, Schank, Merrill,..) have backgrounds in AI (Artificial Intelligence, rather than the other AI) I find this a little disconcerting.

In some sense the application of concepts from artificial intelligence to human intelligence and learning is rather circular. Artificial intelligence begins with theories about how humans think, and builds machine systems that model this. Implementations of these models are of necessity distorted by the nature of the machine’s logic and circuitry – there is no reason to believe that humans process or store information in a manner anything like that required by a computer. If we then take these models of machine learning and intelligence, and reapply them to human learning, as has been done, for example, in Merrill’s Instructional Transaction Theory (Simon, 1973), we have created a circular application whose validity depends primarily on how accurate our initial AI assumptions are to reality. In other words, we create ID theories based on models of machine learning, which in turn are based on machine implementations of theories of mind. The soundness of this last connection remains an unresolved debate, as various and sometimes contrasting perspectives on theories of mind remain plausible, from theories of “mind-as-machine” through cultural evolution, the theory of extelligence, and beyond (Merrill, 1999) The notion that we can design models of human learning based on the idea that our minds are like the computers we have invented seems peculiar to this author.

Merrill, M. D. (1999). Instructional Transaction Theory (ITT): Instructional Design Based on Knowledge Objects. In C. M. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional-design theories and models : vol. 2, a new paradigm of instructional theory (pp. 397 – 424). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Simon, H. A. (1973). The Structure of Ill Structured Problems. Artificial Intelligence, 4(3), 181-201.

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Great Simulations and a Kitten

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes

Do Animals Play Games?

I guess it is always possible to discuss definitions, but if one is willing to accept a common-sense definition of play, then animals absolutely play.

Kittens (and almost all adult cats) often ‘play’ when alone, which sort of eliminates the notion of led training. Watching animals is one of my favorite pastimes, and there is no doubt in my mind that they are sometimes playing. There are characteristic postures that differentiate play from other behaviours in any animal I have observed. A watchful eye can also detect when play turns into something else, which it occasionally does.

Cats, dogs, and most predator species play (I don’t think anyone can convince me that otters don’t play). Some prey animals play also, although to a lesser extent, it seems. Horses, donkeys and goats play all throughout their lives; sheep and cows, not so much. I’m not sure I would call what baby ducks and geese do ‘play’, and I don’t think adult ducks play at all (I wouldn’t call enjoying a great bath ‘play’) – on the other hand I’d have trouble calling some of what parrots do anything *but* play.

Some gorillas and elephants like to paint. There’s even one gorilla ( who named his paintings.

I’ve been living and working with animals all my life, and have learned that what makes me happy does not necessarily make them happy – nor do my needs or feelings necessarily translate to theirs. My donkey and horse react and behave quite differently – and they require different approaches in handling and training. That’s even true with different breeds of dog. I don’t think that’s anthropomorphising.

Knowing that there are distinct differences between ‘us’ and ‘them’ doesn’t necessarily preclude some remarkable similarities.

The view of cats (and other animals) teaching through simulation touches on a number of things here – from what level of fidelity is necessary (and how it might need to change as experience/learning does) – to ‘constrained reality’ – to how deeply some of this may be rooted in what appear to be natural behaviours.

Cats seem to like teaching – Continue reading

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Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

I have seriously misjudged M. David Merrill.

His Component Display Theory was very computer sciencey, and unwieldy, and really turned me off; but First Principles is *really* good. Thank you Gail for pointing me at it!

I’ve had this notion for a while: that the process of becoming an expert is a very long one (with the exception of the occasional aberrational protégé). Eventually, along the path to becoming a ‘master of your craft’, most people seem to discover the big picture (perspective), which seems invisible to beginners. Beginners concern themselves with lots of details (and with exhaustive inventories, catalogues, prescriptions for how-to, etc.); masters concern themselves with first principles (the essence).

After reading this, I want to ask, “What more do I need?” This seems to say it all. (and how come nobody put this under my nose before?)

I agree with almost every claim he makes (although I think that fantasy problems can be just as compelling and facilitating as real-world problems), and, even better,… good games are already designed to meet all of these First Principles: Continue reading

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Immersive Education and Virtual Learning Environments

Approximate Reading Time: < 1 minute

This looks like this might be worth a bit of time to investigate: came across the game_edu list this morning.

Media Grid call for participation: Immersive Education and Virtual Learning Environments

High quality PDF and Web versions:

BOSTON, MA – June 04, 2007 – launches Immersive Education initiative with an open call to educators, students, and professionals who have experience using virtual learning environments or video game technologies (such as Second Life, Croquet, Extensible 3D [X3D], Panda3D, Quake, Unreal, Torque Game Engine, and so forth). Individuals and organizations can visit to select the next-generation Immersive Education platform, contribute to best practices, and establish standards for virtual learning environments and game-based learning platforms.

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A mouse in my glove.

Approximate Reading Time: 3 minutes


Today I found a mouse in my glove.

I hate mice.

I found one in my boot once – I was barefoot when I put it on – something squishy in the toe – shook out my boot and there it was. Ack.


This time I put on my glove (you know those big, cheap (not the work kind) winter ones) – and my middle finger pushed up against something soft, squishy, and a little warm. My first thought was “How did that guinea fowl manage to poo in my glove?” (we currenty have a guinea in the house – named Glen…. or maybe Glenda… I can’t tell.)

Then – YUK!

– I hate mice – I shook out my glove – nothing.

So I started to work it out of the finger by squeezing it like a tube of toothpaste – more yuk – when it finally came out – there it was – small; barely alive. I wonder how long it’s been there? Did it get there on its own or did one of the cats toss it there? Well, like I said, I hate mice – I tossed it out into the snow (I’m still too much of a coward to kill it outright – God forgive me) I figured it wouldn’t take long outside; I’d heard that freezing is not altogether unpleasant.

I prayed for forgiveness.

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Lost Dog

Approximate Reading Time: 5 minutes

This story was originally written May 31 1998.
Republished on June 13 2007

Copyright, K.Becker

Today was one of *those* days. I went downstairs to check on the 2 little mallards that hatched a few days ago only to find that our new kitten had managed to pull one of them through the bars of the cage and kill it. They were the only 2 eggs rescued from a nest attacked by a fox.

Kittens are so cute.

Good Morning, kitten.
Nice to see you had a fun night. Kipa, the kitten decided it would be fun to climb up my bare legs. I peeled him off my legs and he bit my hand.

He’s so cute.

Sad and in pain, I checked the answering machine – my long awaited fruit tree seedlings were shipped by bus on Thursday and they still haven’t arrived. No messages. Rats.

Oh yes, I also remember to open the sliding doors in the hopes that the gopher that got into the house and is having a grand time chewing up the kid’s toys would leave again (he spent the night hiding behind the un-used stove squeaking for help).
Good Morning, gopher. He squeaked.

Gophers are so cute.

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