Monthly Archives: April 2012

Entrepreneurship and Instructional Content: Using Kickstarter to Fund Games for Education

by Hap Aziz

The development of course content, especially at higher levels where students are more sophisticated and discerning regarding their academic materials, has always been a challenge. It is important to be able to strike a balance between cost of development (both in resources and labor), instructor expertise, and turn-around time (or development time in response to current or recent events that might have an impact on the course learning objectives). Basically, it has been a question of what can the instructor build by him or herself, in time for the upcoming lessons, that isn’t going to involve a budget request from the department. Because of this dynamic, the “promise” of computer games transforming the education landscape has never really been realized, it if the prevailing thinking around this doesn’t change, neither will the landscape. What likely needs to occur is a shift in the expectation of games in education; designing a learning activity that plays like Modern Warfare–or even Angry Birds–is well out of reach of faculty skills and department budgets.

A possible pathway out of this impossible maze of twisty passages involves two strategies to be executed simultaneously:

  1. Utilize game formats and development tools that individual instructors can use effectively
  2. Be creative in finding methods of funding (and the funding should only need to cover relatively small amounts)

It is with both of these points in mind that I developed the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative Kickstarter project. To the first point, I selected an “old school” type of computer game that can be developed quite effectively by a single person; an instructor who wishes to build something small scale in time for the upcoming semester, for example. To the second point, I decided to fund my project through Kickstarter, a crowd sourced funding model in which backers make donations rather than investments (meaning that if the developer is able to raise the funding, there is no pressure that the project become profitable enough for repayment).

My idea is simple: if instructors can use a form of computer games such as Interactive Fiction (a form that the literature shows is effective even with reluctant readers), they would be able to develop smaller game exercises that can be integrated into their curriculum, and expanded upon over time. With Kickstarter funding covering some relatively minor miscellaneous costs, there would be no significant budgetary impact to take into consideration.

(In fact, we could go even further and consider the creation of an education-specific form of Kickstarter. Imagine institutions tapping into their alumni base for course material development or even program funding on a smaller scale.)

I invite you to review the Kickstarter project by clicking here. The funding window is open until early June on that project. You can find additional material on the project at the official project blog by clicking here. Please feel free to share your thoughts, and I’ll be sure to report back throughout the development process.

1 Comment

Filed under colleges and universities, computer games, cost of education, crowdsourcing, education course content, education technology, games, gamification, Hap Aziz, higher education, Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com, technology, vintage technology

Measuring Frustration through Facial Recognition: We Do It for Games, Why Not for Courses?

by Hap Aziz

While attending the 2012 Game Developers’ Conference last month in San Francisco, one of the presentations I sat in on was about measuring the level of frustration game players go through during certain game play bottlenecks. The presentation, “Arrggghh!!! Blending Quanititative and Qualitative Methods to Detect Player Frustration,” given by Janus Sorensen of Crystal Dynamics/IO Interactive (Square Enix), laid out the qualitative (observing and interviewing players) and quantitative (automatic data gathering) methods of research analysis that he used in assessing player frustration in the game Kane and Lynch 2: Dog Days. The methods were executed using a fairly standard academic methodology of observation and interviews, and while the results were meaningful, the manner in which they were obtained was labor intensive and not well-suited for broad application. And neither were the conclusions transferable to other games.

I wasn’t too surprised to hear that a member of the hacker community was working on a project to use the Xbox and a web cam to “read emotions” while watching television or playing video games. Dale Lane writes about his experiments on his blog located here. Using relatively simple and accessible technology along with some good ole’ programming ingenuity, Dale has crafted a way to roughly “measure” emotions through facial expressions. While much refinement still needs to occur, this is a great start to effectively gathering quantitative data regarding emotions evoked during different segments of game play… and thereby facilitating improvements in the games tested for this type of player interaction.

So why not apply this technique to online or computer-based coursework in the teaching and learning environment? It seems to me that we might be able to make some real and meaningful improvements to course content if we understood where students are struggling and frustrated as well as where students feel confident and happy about the way in which the content is presented? Perhaps I need to reach out to Dale and see if he’s up for a partner project….

2 Comments

Filed under computer games, education, education course content, education technology, emotions, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, qualitative research, quantitative research, technology, Xbox

Kickstarter and the Paradigm of Crowd-sourced Funding

by Hap Aziz

This morning I was on the Good Day morning show that airs on Fox 35 in Orlando, Florida. The topic of the segment was Kickstarter.com, and the funding of creative projects through the crowd-sourcing models. Kickstarter, of course, has gotten some fairly extensive media coverage so far this year. There may be more funding for the arts through Kickstarter than through the National Endowment for the Arts this year (more info), and Kickstarter has broken through to the foreground of the collective cultural psyche, even appearing on the IFC series Portlandia (more info).

Browsing through the individual projects, you can get a quick picture of the kinds of ideas people are hoping to fund. It is also possible to gain a sense of what types of projects gain funding, and what fails–although that’s not black and white. The idea needs to be well thought out, of course, but the presentation of the idea itself must be reasonably polished–enough so to inspire some measure of confidence in the potential donors. Perhaps most importantly, the person or people behind a particular project should have strong and extensive social networks that they can leverage for donation opportunities.

Kickstarter is not without criticisms and critics. One of the complaints is that so many of the projects on Kickstarter are, well, junk ideas. Tech blog Gizmodo.com recently ran this piece on why they are done with Kickstarter. It would seem that like so much of everything else on the Internet, it is exceedingly difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Yet, I don’t think that many people would deny the attractiveness of the model.

So I began giving some thought to the idea of more specific Kickstart-like sites, with tightly controlled review processes that adequately vet proposals before releasing them for donation requests (Kickstarter does have a light review process and a set of criteria for participation). Of course, I thought of the possibility of a higher-education version of Kickstarter, and then I saw this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education: “Professor Hopes to Support Free Course With Kickstarter, the ‘Crowd Funding’ Site.” Certainly, there’s a potential market for the concept, and with a more rigorous review process, institutions of higher education could tap into their strong social networks of students, alumni, and community partners (referring back to my earlier point on what makes for successful funding). There are even arguments to be made why the crowd-sourced model could be used to supplement more traditional grant funding at institutions for a wide variety of projects.

I think the idea of a higher-education version of Kickstarter has some merit, and given my own professional network within the higher education environment, I’ll be exploring the idea to see if it might have wings. Keep watching this space for development on that front.

2 Comments

Filed under creativity, crowdsourcing, government funding, grant funding, Hap Aziz, higher education, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com