Author Archives: digitalhap

About digitalhap

Passionate about Play and using Technology as a tool to better enjoy life.

The Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative

There has been some updated work on the program, and details can be found at the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative blog. You’ll be able to download a version of the program to compare navigation functionality with the map of locations. You’re invited to perform quality assurance testing!

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Filed under Colonial Williamsburg, Hap Aziz, Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative, Interactive Fiction, text adventure

A Research Project on Interactive Fiction in Education

Are you an educator using or possibly interested in using Interactive Fiction in the classroom? Take a look here:  http://goo.gl/dtu5ix

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Filed under computer games, education, education course content, games, Hap Aziz, Interactive Fiction

Are Indie Games an Answer for Curriculum Development?

HapBlogThumbnailby Hap Aziz

PBS has produced a mini-documentary titled, “The Creativity of Indie Video Games.” This seven-and-a-half minute exploration into the phenomenon of the independently-produced video game raises some interesting questions regarding the potential development of games specifically as education content tied directly to learning outcomes. While the mini-documentary itself does not address the education issue, watching the piece while keeping in mind education needs will trigger some pretty interesting “What if?” ideas. I invite you to have a look and post any thoughts you might have.

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Filed under computer games, creativity, crowdsourcing, education, education course content, games, gamification, Hap Aziz, Indie games, learning outcomes, simulation

Thoughts on Education and Student “Delivery”

HapBlogThumbnailby Hap Aziz

Recently I was interviewed by the folks at Lone Star College for a video they were putting together on using data to measure student progress and success. Here is the clip of my segment.

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Filed under Hap Aziz, higher education, learning outcomes, technology

Play as a Learning Driver

by Hap Aziz

Our family dog, a White German Shepherd, loves to play. That isn’t surprising. But what does fascinate me is that clearly our dog has very specific rules to the games he plays with us, and that different “games” have different rules. There is acceptable and unacceptable physical contact. There are “safe zones” when chasing or being chased. There are appropriate ways to call time out. All of these are rules that our dog worked out on his own, and he expects that we will follow them faithfully when we play. Play is serious business, after all.

After playing with Bolt (yes, I know, a White German Shepherd named Bolt just like the movie) over the years, I considered the concept of animals playing and having rules to their games just like people. Clearly, the evolutionary mechanism for play among dogs (and other animals) is to work on actual survival skills used in activities like hunting, protecting food, and fighting. I realized that the very same mechanism is a component of human play; that is, before we as a civilization began to formalize learning, we developed our survival skills through play competitions (the competitions of running and throwing things really speak to the skills we use in the hunt). It seems obvious that play developed to a large degree as a means of facilitating learning.

Then we humans formalized learning and sucked the fun of play right out of it.

The idea of gamification addresses the issue of play elements in the modern learning experience. Though more and more educators are becoming aware of the potential benefits, the majority of people in the teaching and learning community have not really made up their minds as to its value. The following articles on gamification are worth reading. If you do take a look, leave a comment here and let me and your fellow readers know what you think about the topic.

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Filed under gamification, Hap Aziz

Education Delivery within 30 Minutes, or Your Money Back!

by Hap Aziz

No, education is not like a pizza (nor is it like a box of chocolates), a commodity to be delivered–even if there is a transaction involved. However, many people do equate the process of educating with the task of information delivery, where students’ minds are vessels to be filled by the wisdom of some source. While that might be a component of the very complex and textured process of learning, it isn’t everything of course. One of the challenges to understanding the process is in identifying what all the components are, and after decades of “research,” it appears to me there are still major gaps in our understanding.

The article “Is Khan Academy a real ‘education solution’?” written by Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post is a more critical look at the approach the Khan Academy takes by “flipping” the classroom. I like the points that Strauss makes in her piece, especially regarding the issue of learning efficiency, and how we might come to know the efficiency of the process. While Strauss asks the question, I want to point out that we truly do not measure what is going on in the brain in terms of learning and cognition–not in a way that would give us a very clear and accurate picture of the effectiveness of various teaching practices. Last year I wrote a blog entry on that subject, “Practicing 18th Century Education in the 21st Century Classroom.” Also, it is worth mentioning that while there are common themes that may be effective for large groups of learners, the most efficient education processes are going to depend on customization to the learner. There will be no one-size-fits-all solutions. To a large degree, the Khan Academy videos fall in this bucket, but there are avenues for customization through the integration of interactive elements that “direct” the video clips–though this will add greatly to the complexity and cost of production.

Ultimately, though, if we are to know with certainty what education processes work for individual learners, we need to be able to take a look at what’s going on in learners’ minds. Outside of the occasional NASA experiment, we’re really not doing a whole lot of kind of research.

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Filed under education, education technology, effective practices, Hap Aziz, neuroscience

Legacy Systems and the Anchors that Work Against Change

by Hap Aziz

Back in October, 1995, a small computer company called Be, Inc. (founded by former Apple executives), released a new computer into the marketplace. This machine was called the BeBox, and from 1995 to 1997, less than 2000 of these computers were produced for developers. The BeBox had a lot of unique features going for it such as dual CPUs, built-in MIDI ports, and something called a GeekPort that allowed hardware experimenters both digital and analog access directly to the system bus. One of my personal favorite features of the BeBox was the pair of “Blinkenlight” stacks on both sides of the front bezel. Functioning like a graphic equalizer, they depicted the real-time load of each of the CPUs in the machine.

But as exciting as the hardware was to computer geeks like me, the real revolution was in the Be Operating System, or the BeOS, as it was called. Written specifically to run on the BeBox hardware, BeOS was optimized for digital media applications, and it actually took full advantage of modern computer hardware with its capabilities of symmetric multiprocessing, true preemptive multitasking, and a 64-bit journaling file system (which for practical purposes meant you could shut off power at any time without going through a shut-down process, and when you turned the machine back on, you would find that your open files were still intact).

BeOS was able to accomplish all sorts of things that Windows, the Mac OS, and Linux could not by shedding nearly all of the legacy “baggage” that the other operating systems continued to carry. The Be team was free to rethink the underlying software systems paradigm at the very deepest levels, and the results were truly astounding to those that saw the BeBox in operation.

The moral of the story is that the greatest transformation is possible when we rethink processes and technologies that have been in place for years, decades, and even generations. This is significant when we think of education, because the majority of our education systems are indeed legacy systems, designed and implemented to facilitate processes that were put into practice over a century ago. Even our “modern” Student Information Systems and Learning Management Systems are limited by the “legacy anchor,” and as a result, we see little true transformation in the teaching and learning space. Education timelines are based on year “blocks” of content, and each block is targeted to a particular age group of student (why is every student of approximately the same age grouped in the same grade?). The foundation of the classroom experience is still the lecture, and with online courses we work to “fit the lecture” into an asynchronous mode. Assessment and evaluation processes are, well, pretty much the same as they have been, only with more variation in execution. Schools and institutions of learning are hardly any different than they were in the 1700s–a group of students go to a building where they meet in a room and work with a single instructor. Even in the online environment, we build virtual analogs to the physical world: a group of students go to a URL where they meet in discussion forums and still work with a single instructor.

What would true transformation look like, given the technologies that are available now? How would we write a new, legacy-free education operating system for the 21st century? Those are two very big questions that could spawn a series of lengthy discussions (and, frankly, I need to write a book about it), but I have a few principles that I would offer up:

  • Education should be non-linear from the perspective of time spent on task. That is to say, a concept such as “4th Grade Mathematics” where all 9 year old children are expected to learn the same content over the same amount of time should go away. Little Julie may master fractions and long division in three months while little Stanley may take half a year. At the same time, little Stanley might be happily absorbing 18th century American literature, while little Julie is still working on more basic reading comprehension skills.
  • Places of education should be built to meet specific learner needs rather than be built around the same specifications of classroom space, administration space, cafeterias, gymnasiums, and so on. Why does every elementary school look like every other elementary school, and not just across stretches of geography, but across time as well? The elementary school I attended in the 1960s would function with little modification for my daughter who is in elementary school now. Surely learners (at any age group) are not a monolithic group with singular needs, yet we build places of education as though they are.
  • Education should offer multiple pathways forward rather than a single path that results in matriculation to the “next grade” or failure and repetition of the previous grade. In the world of computer game design, multiple pathways forward is commonplace, allowing players with various skills to progress according to his or her particular strengths–and in making progress, the player is often able to “circle back” and solve particular challenges that he or she was unable to complete earlier in the game. In the same way, a learner may bypass a particularly challenging content area, yet come back with greater skills acquired in a different “track” better able to solve the original challenge.
  • In fact, the idea of “grade levels” is in many respects antithetical to the concept of the lifelong learner. Why measure start points and end points as set dates on a calendar? Rather, education milestones should be set and achieved on a skills-mastery framework, and this process is ongoing for the true lifelong learner. The ramifications of this would be profound on a social level (the singular graduation moment may no longer exist), but from the perspective of personal growth and fulfillment, the benefits could be tremendous, and there will certainly be just as many–if not more–opportunities for celebrations of achievement.

Ultimately, bringing significant transformative change to the education-industrial complex will require rethinking of almost every segment of the teaching and learning process, including the manner in which we engage technologies to support that process. Being willing to discard our legacy baggage will be extremely difficult for many. Yet doing so will be the only way in which we might remix our 21st century technologies of smart devices, mobile connectivity, social media, the Internet, and more into an educational system that meets the diverse needs of our 21st century learners.

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Filed under children, colleges and universities, computer games, creativity, education, education technology, effective practices, emerging technologies, face-to-face instruction, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, higher education, Internet, Learning Management Systems, learning outcomes, legacy systems, online education, smartphones, social media, Student Information System, tablets, technology, virtual college

The Historical Williamsburg IF Project: an Interview with Emily Short

by Hap Aziz

(Note: a version of this post is also on the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative blog.)

I was quite pleased when I was contacted by Emily Short about the Historical Williamsburg Living Narrative. For those of us engaged in authoring Interactive Fiction, attracting the attention of Emily is a very gratifying experience. Emily has won multiple IF competition awards for many of her games including Galatea, Savoir-Faire, and Floatpoint (just to name a few). As it turns out, Emily was interested in the concept of my Williamsburg project, and she offered me an opportunity for an interview which she would publish on her blog, Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling.

You can go directly to the interview by clicking on this link. I think the interview turned out well, but I’m biased regarding the topic. So be sure to read it yourself. Emily found the connection between my project and education to merit exploration, so several of her questions and my answers deal with topics such as learning objectives, assessment, and finding ways to make IF more accessible for teachers (an area that intersects with my doctoral research).

The project is well on its way to reaching the funding goal I set for it on Kickstarter. Ultimately, I would quite enjoy building a series of these historical IF games for use in the teaching and learning environment. However, first things first; I’ll see how it goes with this project and the funding needed to get off the ground. Please feel free to click here and go directly to the Kickstarter project page to see where it stands as the deadline approaches.

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Filed under computer games, crowdsourcing, education, games, Hap Aziz, Interactive Fiction, Kickstarter, Kickstarter.com, learning outcomes, narrative

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.

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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….

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