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Archive for June, 2008

Gearing up for Class

June 30th, 2008 Bartman 1 comment

This Wednesday marks the beginning of 2 6-week courses I’ll be teaching at PSU. Even though it is the same course I taught in the fall (IST 110), the summer sections will be wildly different:

  • Trying to take 16 weeks of content and boil it down to 6 weeks is impossible
  • Teaching twice a week for 1.5 hours is much easier than teaching EVERY DAY for 1.25 hours
  • I’m running a pilot study for my dissertation, which forces me to radically change the way I approach this class compared to fall 07

It’s been a long weekend preparing, both in terms of research preparation and the logistics of the course itself. Assuming all goes well (of course it will!), I may end up teaching again in the Spring of 09, going back to the traditional 16-week format. But I have a feeling I’ll be radically changing the structure of the course *again* for the Spring. Why?

The course section(s) will have ~150 students.

I see myself more as a facilitator than a teacher in the traditional sense. With 25-45 students, it is fairly easy to get students into groups for in-class activities, create an open environment for discussion, and engage most students on a personal level. Yes, I will occasionally give lectures that lasts 45+ minutes in my class, but I try my best to avoid that. I’d rather facilitate active discussions around the content of the course, tying things to current events in the world or things happening around campus.

I was searching for Mike Wesch’s hypertext video this morning when I stumbled upon a post by Mike regarding his philosophy on teaching…more appropriately, “anti-teaching”. It’s a fantastic read, and I’ll leave you with a teaser:

Teaching is about providing good information. Anti-teaching is about inspiring good questions.

Categories: Teaching Tags:

Serious game design

June 27th, 2008 Bartman No comments

An interesting conversation took place on the Serious Games list this week. Kam Memarzia put out a great list of ’10 commandments’ for serious game design and development. The list from Kam (truncated a bit for space considerations):

1. Thou shalt first thoroughly understand the problem or situation the
user is facing (for whose needs thou are crafting the solution)

2. Thou shalt then conceive of a ‘simulation’ where the problem is
exposed or can be experimented with in an interesting, engaging way

3. Thou shalt create and maintain a series of documents covering
Design, Technical Spec, System Architecture, Usability, Deployment,
…. similar to games or application development and refer and update
these throughout the development process.

4. Thou shalt appreciate pedagogy and draw upon the the worlds of
Training, Learning, Psychology and Human User Interface

5. Thou shalt create iterative-prototypes so they are not thrown away
but build upon, and thou shalt get feedback from the end user and the
client as often as possible on these prototypes

6. Thou shalt be weary of flights of fantasy especially by the client
or design staff and manage change orders as the project progresses

7. Thou shalt be weary of accessibility and end user kit, as the god
of Serious Games will smite you with vengeance if thou application
does not run on the machine it was crafted for

8. Thou shalt try and inject some light heartedness into thou
creations otherwise thou may be making a dry application with no ‘fun’
merit

9. Thou shalt never underestimate the power of a good teacher or
facilitator to use what you have created to transform the user and
ultimately be sensible in what the application may be able to achieve

10. Thou shalt be mindful of the uses of any word that a ‘serious’
person may find in anyway ‘frivolous’, being tactful of when and where
the word ‘game’ or ‘fun’ appears

Overall, I like this list a lot. I agree with all 10 items, but it still gets under my skin that certain groups or organizations STILL get bogged down by language such as ‘game’, ‘fun’ and ‘play’. I realize this is somewhat a generational issue, and to sell these solutions to organizations with old school upper management you need to spin the language a certain way.

I spent some time in the Spring thinking a lot about Fun. Does fun equal engagement? Is it the other way around? How does fun impact learning? How can I inject fun into my workplace culture? How can I inject fun into projects (both the process of creating something as well as in the final deliverable)? I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I have collected some interesting quotes on the topic:

People rarely succeed at anything unless they are having fun doing it. – Southwest Airlines Mission Statement

Considering Southwest is still doing well in a very bad time for airlines, maybe they are onto something.

We insist that kids be given time to play because it’s important to childhood, but that work is deemed far more important later in life. I think work and play aren’t all that different, to be honest. – Raph Koster

The hardest part about finding a new job lately relates to this quote. I’ve been in an ideal situation for the last 3 years in that I REALLY like what I’m doing because it includes both Play and Work. It’s difficult to find a job the encourages both.

Play is by its very nature educational. When the fun goes out of play, most often so does the learning. – Joanne E. Oppenheim, Author of Kids and Play

This one is a bit tricky. Sure, kids learn from play throughout childhood, but is there a time when the play tapers off and learning takes place in more formal or structured settings? As a gamer, I still feel I learn a lot while playing games. But this learning is not content-specific; it’s more meta-skills like multitasking, spatial awareness, memory building, etc. The brain is your most important muscle and games are great exercise!

Categories: Design, Games Tags:

My Creatures, let me show them to you

June 18th, 2008 Bartman No comments

The Spore Creature Creator was released yesterday, both in a free trial and a $10 PC-only version (please release the Mac version soon?). I’ve blogged before about Spore and the creature creator, and I ended the last Spore post with three questions:

  1. Will people playing on various systems share creatures across platforms?
  2. Will users be able to access the sporepedia via a browser, or are we stuck with a custom app?
  3. Will the Sporepedia have some sort of mobile UI for access via cell phones and other handheld devices?

The answer to question one appears to be yes, but the full Mac version of the creature creator is not available yet so I can’t be sure. The answer to question 2 is a resounding YES! I had a chance to check out the Sporepedia via the trial creature creator yesterday, and today I spent some time checking out the online version. It appears that I can’t actually download the creature file into my creature creator via the web, but I can surf, sort, and rate others’ creations.

EDIT: Yep, it appears I can download creatures right from the web version of Sporepedia and open them in my Creature Creator.

It feels somewhat similar to browsing photos on flickr, with meta data around each creature like tags, descriptions and rankings. The new question I have regarding Sporepedia: how much integration will it have with the game itself? Can I bookmark creatures on the web version of the sporepedia, then open the game and immediately download those files to my machine and customize? I see a lot of room for growth (maybe some of these features are already here, but I have not created my primary Spore account yet…waiting on the Mac release).

Still uncertain whether the Sporepedia will have some sort of custom UI for mobile devices. They did demo Spore on the iPhone in the past, but that was actual gameplay, not creature creation or browsing.

One astonishing statistic I noticed on the site:

Creatures Created: 231,364

The Creature Creator has only been around for ~28 HOURS! Already users have uploaded 200,000+ of their creations? Unbelievable. I’d try and get into the social nature of this whole Spore/Sporepedia phenomenon, but I have a feeling Stubbs will beat me to it.

Categories: Games Tags:

Design Notebook

June 18th, 2008 Bartman No comments

I recently completed Dan Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind. I found the first couple chapters straight forward and not very engaging, but the final 2/3rds of the book is fantastic. Specifically the chapters on design, story and play. One of the standout attributes of this book are the ‘Portfolio’ portions at the end of each chapter; a list of activities and resources you can engage in to help build your right-brain capacities.

One activity is called the design notebook. Pink suggests taking pictures of both good and bad examples of design, and tacking them somewhere in your office. Eventually you will create a collage of design examples, which can help spark and refine ideas.

Enter iflickr, an application for iPhones that will push your photos to flickr. The application itself is very slick, you can add tags, descriptions, titles and even the location the picture was taken with your iPhone before uploading. I’ve just started my design notebook, so I don’t have a lot of examples yet. I do look forward to continuing this experiment and hopefully getting others involved to compare notes and have a dialog around good and bad design. I hate to admit that I’m a flickr newbie, so I’m unsure how to create a page that pulls photos from people interested in playing along. Any pointers to resources on how to do this?

Categories: Design Tags:

Achievements, Competition and Learning

June 11th, 2008 Bartman 3 comments

For those that do not own an Xbox, Microsoft has implemented an achievement system that tracks various milestones for you when you play through any game. From the Xbox 360 website:

Achievements are game-defined goals that are stored and displayed in your gamer profile. Achievements can be as simple, complex, or off-the-wall as a game wants.

This system has been so successful (read: Are you addicted to achievements?) that Valve is implementing a similar system for all its games via Steam, Sony is working on a similar system for Playstation 3, and World of Warcraft is implementing an achievement system for the next expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. Personally, I have not been sucked into the world of achievements, but nearly all of my friends have. I’m starting to see how addictive it is, both as a personal accomplishment as well as community bragging rights. GTA 4 contains 50 achievements, many directly tied to missions, but some just for fun. For example:

Dare Devil: Complete 100% of the unique stunt jumps.

This has NOTHING to do with the actual story or progression of the game, simply a fun challenge for a player to undertake. From the design side of the coin, putting achievements in games keeps gamers playing your game that much longer.

In terms of community, many gamers compare their overall achievement score, as well as their achievements for specific games. It’s almost an informal competition among friends. In my opinion, competition also leads to some level of motivation and engagement.

So how does this tie to learning? What if we could put some sort of achievement system in place for a course? What if such a system could be coded inside a CMS like Blackboard or ANGEL, that tracks your academic achievements over your academic career? Would this lead to a more engaged and motivated student? Obviously the biggest roadblock here is privacy; grades are not public and I, as an instructor, am not allowed to post student grades somewhere for everyone to see.

This feels like something worth fleshing out for a future course offering…

Categories: Games, Learning Tags:

Sid Meier on learning

June 6th, 2008 Bartman 2 comments

Sid Meier, creator of the Civilization game series, recently keynoted the Innovation in elearning conference. The title of his talk, Help, I can’t stop learning!, deals with how kids are learning from games. Wendy has a great writeup on her blog, but two of the bullets I found interesting:

  • “Always try to create a sense of anticipation.”
    Kids always want to know what will happen next. It keeps then engaged and motivated to play for long stretches of time. Interesting that this kind of goes opposite of instructional design, where you’re supposed to tell the student what will be covered (objectives + preview), tell them, then tell them what you told them (review objectives + wrap-up)
  • “Never let the player think they are being educated.”
    This is difficult in a formal education setting like a university or school, but I can understand where Sid is going with this. As my colleague, Brian, frequently points out, we’re only in a formal school setting for a tiny percent of our lives, it’s all about informal learning. Sounds like Sid has some great pointers for integrating informal learning into interactive media.
Categories: Games, Learning, Uncategorized Tags:

Games for Change Festival

June 6th, 2008 Bartman No comments

Friend and colleague Joey Lee sent me notes on a few sessions from the 5th Games for Change Festival in NYC. Sounds like a lot of good sessions and workshops, but one summary from Jim Gee’s presentation jumped out at me:

Games’ greatest strength is not information delivery; it’s more about experiences and how these experiences make you see the world in a new way. Also, games are not meant to teach you everything you need to know about a subject – rather, to spark interest and fuel the desire to learn more about a subject

This is something I struggle with when explaining the idea of using games for education with faculty. Many faculty have the notion that an educational game should be the complete package; students should be able to load it, play it, and then take some form of assessment. I always point out that this is never the case; you don’t lecture with powerpoint for 16 weeks and expect students to learn all the content, right? You supplement the lectures with labs, problem assignments, in-class activities, papers, tests, etc. Thank you Joey and Gee for putting it so eloquently.

To go along with the quote, Joey pointed me to a game called Ayiti, a Flash game that puts you in the position of managing a Haitian family over 4-years. The game lets you decide your goal for the family (such as happiness, education, or money), then you must allocate the 5 family members to various seasonal activities to achieve your goal. The game does a fantastic job of illustrating how HARD this must be for a Haitian family. I only made it through a couple seasons, trying to get the kids educated, before I ran out of money and had to start working all 5 members of the family in order to put one child to school periodically. A great example of a game providing an experience to help illustrate living conditions in another country.

Categories: Games Tags:

Gaming at Penn State University

June 4th, 2008 Bartman No comments

We recently captured an overview presentation on the Educational Gaming Commons (EGC), a project I’ve been involved with for over a year now at PSU. See the clip below to get an idea of what we’re doing. Towards the end you’ll see me giving a demonstration of our first game prototype, Eco-Racer.

Categories: Games Tags: