Archive for January, 2007

The First Virtual Learning World?

January 25th, 2007 Bartman No comments

I found an article today about a MMO to teach Chengo Chinese. I guess this has been in the works for a while, but for some reason it didn’t bubble to the surface until recently. What’s really nice is that you can access a small (20-page) business case and high level design document from the project initiators.

I read through the document. It’s not bad, but I think it’s fairly obvious that 0 game developers had any input at the time of the writing, and it sounds as if the author(s) don’t even play games themselves. Troubling. Other things that stood out:

- They claim that the MMO will have 3,000 hours of content, broken down into 1000 activities @ 3 hours each. Does that mean I need to spend AT LEAST 3 hours in the environment to start and complete a single activity? Sheesh, and I thought Warcraft was bad…
- I like the progression path, where you go from village, to town, to city, to cosmopolitan area. But is this linear? What if I’d rather go from one village to another village? Or backtrack from a town to a village I’ve never visited yet?
- How about the difficulty? I’ve posted on dynamic difficulty systems before, which would fit perfectly into a game such as this. I just have this awful image in my head of trying to re-learn french in a world like this from my old french teacher. EVERYTHING had to be spoken in french for 45 minutes in her class. I can just see logging in, and being forced to use chinese, when I’m not comfortable yet, and logging out in frustration. The early part of the game (the villages) need to be the best part of the entire experience for it be successful and compel users to proceed to the next stage.
- The document refers to past attempts at leveraging learning games being only partially successful. The author notes, referring to past attempts at game-based learning for language:

It fails to permeate the gaming concept throughout the program, and uses games more as external motivation rather than capitilizing on the internal motivation naturally conveyed via a coherent game-base learning environment

So how does a MMO wrapper solve this problem? I don’t think it does. Cramming educational content into a game, or forcing a game wrapper around content, usually doesn’t work. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and balance to bring these two things together into a cohesive, instructionally sound learning experience.

Finally, the timeline.

The timetable for the development of Chengo Chinese is as follows:
• June, 2006 – August, 2006 Design the game and curriculum framework
• August, 2006 – November, 2006 Establish the alpha version of the system
• November, 2006 – January, 2007 Beta-test the system
• January, 2007 – June, 2007 Pilot and promote the system
• June, 2007 Refine and improve the system; formal introduction of the system
In 2 years, it is expected that the users for the proposed Chinese learning environment would exceed 100,000 users.

Are you serious? I mean, really? This is the part of the document when I was sure NO game developers or designers had input in the project, at least in writing the document.

Categories: Educational Technology, Games Tags:

The Second Life Project Continues…

January 23rd, 2007 Bartman 1 comment

I’m working hard to sift through all the various Second Life resources out there on the web. Like most information on the web, some is very good, some…well…not so good. Two interesting items I stumbled upon:

1. A recent article in Forbes, which is a great indroduction to Second Life, and offers a good overview what organziations are doing within the world. It also includes insight from VC funders (which all have a history of some sort of IT/Web innovation). Choice snips:

During the presentation, CEO Sam Palmisano walked up to an onstage PC, logged onto the online three-dimensional virtual world called Second Life, and took command of the cartoon-like “avatar” that represents him there.

He then visited a version of Beijing’s Forbidden City built on virtual real estate, dropping by an IBM meeting where avatars controlled by employees in Australia, Florida, India, Ireland, and elsewhere were discussing supercomputing. Among the initiatives announced by Palmisano that day: a $10 million project to help build out the “3-D Internet” exemplified by Second Life.

“Say IBM uses our code to build its own intranet version that’s somewhat different from Second Life,” he says. “A user may say ‘Wow, this virtual thing IBM has built is pretty cool. Now I want to go to the mainland.’ And we have another customer.” In effect, Linden hopes to control the standards for virtual worlds so that they become the equivalent of the HTTP and HTML standards that define the web.

2. I came across Sloodle, which appears to be similar to my initial writings about virtual learning worlds. I need to dig around on this site more, but on the surface this looks a lot like what I was imagining a few years ago, when learning and MMOs collide.

Categories: Games Tags:

The First 24 Hours…

January 17th, 2007 Bartman No comments

I’m going to do my best not to turn this into a running World of Warcraft blog for the next couple weeks, so I’ll try and add a non-WoW twist at the end.

The expansion arrived Tuesday at 12:01 a.m. Like many others I went with a few friends and picked it up at midnight (never again!). Our guild’s ventrilo server has been jam-packed ever since early morning Tuesday, from members all over the country, and a handful of folks from England and Australia. So what have I witnessed since then?
- One of our guild members played for 40 hours straight, took a power nap, then went for another 8 hours before going to bed for 8+ hours. Highest level Horde on the server before going to bed.
- Another player went for about 36 hours straight, and fell asleep at his desk.
- Many accounts of players going 24+ hours non-stop, not just in my guild, but all across the 7.5 million WoW population.
- MANY players have come together and joined forces with people they normally didn’t run around with, to make progression go faster
- Lots of people have come together to farm the low level instances non-stop, for new items and experience.
- One fella on a European server reached the level cap in 28 hours (it took me about 120-130 hours of game time to do this on Beta over several months). The amount of planning, coordination, and teamwork (he had 35+ people helping him for the final push) is hard to comprehend unless you play the game.

This might not be all that interesting, or you might just be thinking these are examples of individuals who have no real-world obligations. But many of these stories stem from adults, who have jobs, wives, kids, and a real life to manage. Here’s where I try and make the jump to tie this into learning.

What can we take away from this? First, I think there has to be something we can learn from these worlds that bring about this level of dedication and motivation. I don’t think learning environments will ever reach this type of engagement level (unfortunately), but we should be STRIVING to create environments for learning that foster this type of dedication, motivation, and cooperation. Instead of shrugging this off as a bunch of kids wasting time, we need to pay close attention and ask the important questions like “WHY are so many people spending time here? WHAT qualities of these environments can we pull into the learning realm? WHAT are these players learning in this environment? HOW can we borrow qualities of this environment that will foster a high level of interaction and engagement in our educational spaces?” The list goes on…

Categories: Games Tags:

Experience Designer

January 15th, 2007 Bartman 1 comment

I read about a gentleman who worked at an ARG/advertising company a while back, who called himself an “experience designer”. If you know about ARGs (follow link above if you’re not sure), you can probably understand how fitting the job description is. So today, I stumbled across a FastCompany article pointing out the 10 hot jobs for 2007. Guess what made the list?

Experience Designer: These talented individuals work in the retail industry, creating the essence and aura of a store. Experience designers go beyond the look of a place, creating a unique experience in which shoppers can immerse themselves. From cellular boutiques to the American Girl doll store on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the shops created by an experience designer are often considered works of art; mini universes unto themselves. Experience designers are involved in every aspect of creation — from choosing accent colors on walls to slanting the windows in the right direction. The next time you go into a boutique and you feel as if you’ve just had an “experience” — you have, and someone went to a lot of trouble to make you feel at home.

This took me by surprise. Do people really even know what this job title means? Are organizations advertising with “Experience Designer” vacancies? I kind of approach elearning design with the same attitude, trying to mesh instructional design, web2.0 apps, video games, and whatever else I can get my hands on to create a very intimate and engaging learning experience. Can I start putting experience designer on my business card? Will people understand?

Categories: General Tags:

It’s About That Time…

January 13th, 2007 Bartman No comments

Well, it’s almost here. I was lucky enough to get a beta key for The Burning Crusade a few months back, so I avoided the post-PvP patch duldrums by leveling to 70 and playing around with all the new content TBC has to offer. It will be interesting…I’ve decided to re-roll a Paladin for my guild, so I definitaly won’t be one of the first guys to hit the level cap. But for those that do hit the level cap early, I created a detailed knowledge base of what I call “Boss Compendiums” for each instance at level 70, complete with strategies, boss abilities, positioning, etc. I’m curious to see if my guild leverages these, if they ignore them not realizing they are available, or if they just want the surprises that new boss encounters offer for the first time. It was actually a LOT of fun going into new raid zones like Karazhan, and learning encounters that no one in our group had ever seen before.

I remember reading that March Madness costs U.S. enterprises millions of dollars due to employees taking vacation or calling in sick for the first round of games on Thursday/Friday in March. I realize that the WoW population isn’t anywhere near that of basketball fans across the country (or is it?), but I wouldn’t be surprised to see some news agencies publishing articles at the end of this week dealing with a massive increase in sick/vacation days for employees across the country.

I don’t plan on taking any time off work…yet. I’m sure Blizzard’s servers will be a nightmare for at least 48 hours. I’ve saved a few vacation days for the end of this month around my Birthday, which will provide some extended time for me to learn a new class.

Categories: Games Tags:

Apple’s New Toy

January 10th, 2007 Bartman No comments

So yesterday was the much-anticipated announcement from Apple, unveiling the iPhone. My IM window lit up from my friends who are part of the ‘Cult of Mac’ about the new product, and I’m sure at least one friend has a new sale up on eBay in an effort to fund an iPhone purchase. I’m a Mac user, and appreciate the elegance, style, UI, and…well, usually everything down to the packaging. Due to being a gamer, I’ve never purchased a Mac for home use. Their support for games, and developer’s support for the Mac platform, has been spotty at best.

One thing that jumped out at me yesterday was a slide I saw on the Engadet write-up of Steve Jobs’ keynote.
Applie iPhone Slide

I was reflecting on this slide, and realized…isn’t this one of the same issues facing games? Over the past two or three years it’s gotten MUCH better, with games like DDR, Donkey Conga, SingStar, and now the Wii. But those are still FIXED controllers, and worse yet, only work with one or two games (aside from the Wii-mote).

Think about the handheld gaming market for a moment. The Nintendo DS is the reigning champ. Why? I’d argue part of the reason is the duel-screen hardware that allows developers to utilize the touch screen in new and unique ways. It isn’t FIXED, they can experiment and innovate with new control schemes and designs that can’t be used on a traditional handheld device (like a phone or most other handheld gaming systems).

I believe Apple has a VERY interesting opportunity here (aside from the obvious opportunities in the mobile phone market). This device has the potential to unintentionally turn into a gaming monster, IF (and this is a HUGE if) Apple goes against it’s long standing history and opens up a little, and provides developers (large and small…the small developers often create the biggest innovation) a Software Development Kit (SDK). I’m willing to bet we can already do some interesting web-based games via flash that would run smoothly on the device, but we could create much more powerful games if Apple opens up a little. Considering I saw the word “Patent” and the phrase “heavily patented” on several write-ups of this device…I’m not holding on to much hope.

Categories: Games Tags:

Thinking Back…

January 9th, 2007 Bartman 3 comments

Four or five years ago, a combination of reading Digital Game-Based Learning and stumbling upon There got me excited about what could be the ‘next level’ of online learning. I had a friend stop by the office today who is starting to explore virtual worlds from a non-entertainment perspective for the first time. I showed him Second Life and some of the educational content found within (which I always struggle with, both due to the control scheme SL utilizes, the disorienting UI, and the poor rendering on my G5).

Then I remembered an old video that used to be linked off, but I couldn’t find it. After Chris left, I finally tracked it down. I had forgotten that Forterrainc Inc. spun off from the There folks when the military tossed millions of dollars at them to create virtual Iraq, and later the virtual middle east. It’s hard to tell how well they are doing these days, because a lot of the military financing isn’t visible on the sight. I do know MTV has contracted them to build three different virtual worlds to support some of their television shows. Whether it’s contract work or MTV purchased the underlying technology, I’m not sure.

Before Second Life became popular, I was a big fan of There’s potential. I still believe There had one of the best UI’s of any MMO…much better than Second Life and probably Everquest and some of the other big names of the time. But at the same time you didn’t have as much freedom in There when compared to SL. I remember coming up with this comp, and making the first Virtual Learning Worlds pitch to There’s CEO. We had some interesting talks for a few months (along with other educators), until Uncle Sam came in and snatched all their attention.

Categories: Educational Technology Tags:

The Network

January 8th, 2007 Bartman No comments

No, no, not from the cingular commercial. From a simple post about upgrading my blog software. Things like this just bring a smile to my face. I got around to checking out Rick’s Blog from a comment he posted about WordPress (aftering perusing both Karl’s and Cole’s blogs), which then led me to a Think:Lab post that lays out a Learning Manifesto. The post is a bit long, but it’s worthwhile to jump down to the maifesto itself and read through the points. Some of my favorite quotes:

If Socrates could Google, what questions would he have asked?

And if you’re dead set on helping me master ‘your past’, please realize I’m going to need a nap. And something to fidget with. And a bus token to get to my job down at the buggy whip factory where I’ll be standing at the front of the line.

Or, you can help me prepare for my future. Your choice.

Keep in mind, I may be young so I may have a hard time with that “r-tickle-a-shun” thing. That’s your job. Give me the words. Give me the tools. Give me the examples. And then get out of my way.

But the second you see my passion start to go from curious lit match to smoke-jumper forest fire, stop giving me handouts and worksheets and become my Jerry McGuire.

Sure, I’ll do that memorize thing for you. Just one catch. Tell me a story.

Seriously. Put away the chalk. Get out from behind the podium. Look me in the eyes. Reach deep into my gut. Massage my heart. Get the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. Get me to tell the flavor of clouds. Tell me to close my eyes and go somewhere bold.

I’ll remember anything you tell me. Swear it.

Are you teaching me to think? Or just to take notes?

I was born in that world 2.0 so I’m kinda used to it. Yeah, I get that you were born before things got interesting, but your digital immigrant accent is making it hard for me to understand you, and harder for me to remain relevant.

And I’m kind of selfish when it comes to my future vs. your past.

Instead of shutting off every virtual connection I have with the world once I step onto campus, why don’t you teach me how to ‘blog smart’? Why don’t you bring in some CEO’s into the classroom to talk about the really ‘great’ kid they almost hired, until they Googled her and found those clever spring break shots from Padre Island? Why don’t you get a MySpace account and come see what I’m writing, even if it p***es me off at the moment? Why don’t you make me agile, rather than weak?

Oh, and why are you asking my teachers to deliver a world class education for the 21st century knowledge economy but you’ve censored every virtual tool they have at their disposal? Frankly, I’m not sure why they give a damn. I wouldn’t if I were them.

How about we stop talking all giddy-like about the technology. For us, it’s not about the box. Not even about the iPod in pink or black. And it’s definitely not about the email (psst: we don’t email ‘cept when old people need help).

It’s about the conversation. The ricochet of words. The energy. The fact that its happening right here right now and it ain’t coming back.

If you’re so smart, why are you asking me to give you the answers?

More importantly, are you teaching me how to ask great questions?

I can tell you an answer. But my future isn’t going to care for what I memorized. It’s only going to care if I can adapt.

Are you ready to help me?

Ok, I got a little carried away with this one, but it really hits home. From every angle: a student, a teacher, and an instructional designer.

Categories: Learning Tags:

Second Life Goes Open Source

January 8th, 2007 Bartman No comments

UPDATE: Brian mentioned that the open source piece, for now, is just the SL client. The long term plan is to open source the codebase.

Ben passed this along today. This is great news, but I think it will take quite a bit of time until we really see how this will affect SL and its current user base.

A lot of the Second Life development work currently in progress is focused on building the Second Life Grid — a vision of a globally interconnected grid with clients and servers published and managed by different groups. Expect many changes and updates in the coming months in support of this architecture.

Being able to offload some of your server maintenance and support, while allowing people to run their own instance of SL and tie into the main grid, offers a lot of unique and interesting opportunities. It looks like Linden Labs anticipate a community forming around this project, to help create documentation, conduct QA, and manage integration issues between developers and the Linden folks.

This could be the start of something big…

Categories: Educational Technology, Games Tags:

WordPress Upgraded

January 5th, 2007 Bartman 7 comments

My old professor, Karl Kapp, asked a few months ago why I didn’t have RSS. So on a rainy afternoon here in State College, I started tinkering with the new WordPress install, and here it is. After using Bloglines for several years, and leveraging the efficiencies of RSS, I finally upgraded. I didn’t realize how easy WordPress made the upgrade process. The guys behind this software deserve all the awards and accolades they receive, especially in regards to how easy it is to install, configure, and be up and running in minutes.
Time for some testing…

Categories: General Tags: