Category Archives: simulation

Beginner’s Guide to Inklewriter

by Hap Aziz

I developed this brief tutorial to help people get up and running in Inklewriter fairly quickly. (If you’re not already familiar with it, Inklewriter is a web-based authoring tool that lets you create Choose Your Own text adventure games. It can be used for many purposes, especially prototyping simulations based on branching choices.

Introduction

Inklewriter is a web-based software that is used to create Interactive Fiction in the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) format. Interactive Fiction (IF) is a type of computer game that lets the player read a story and make choices that can change the direction and outcome of the story. Using Inklewriter for education purposes, abstracted (text-only) simulations may be created for a variety of learning assignments.

Because IF games are mainly text-based, IF games were among the first kind ever written for computers. CYOA games are a type of IF that give the player specific choices at the end of each section These types of games are also a form of branching scenarios. The player chooses what he or she would like to do, and the branching scenario moves forward based on the player’s selections. Although no longer at the height of their original popularity, CYOA branching scenarios are still quite engaging, and they can be used on their own, or they may be developed as proof-of-concepts for more graphically-intensive simulation.

There can be many different outcomes in an CYOA branching scenario, or the story can lead the player to a single ending. It is up to the creator to decide what the player is able to accomplish. To direct the player’s path through the scenario, the creator must develop a “map” of the story. The map is an outline of the story narrative along with the decisions a player is allowed to make and the places in the story that those decisions may be made. More instruction on this will be provided later in this document.

Inklewriter is freely available. To get to Inklewriter, all you need is a computer with access to the Internet using a standard web browser. You will go to the URL http://www.inklestudios.com/inklewriter/ and your screen should look something like this:

Click on the Start Writing button. When you do that, another tab will open up in your browser, and you will see this on your screen:

You will be able to create your own account by clicking the “sign in” button to get to the following screen.

Here, you will click on the Create New Account link.

Once you sign into your Inklewriter account, you will see the screen below.

This is your “blank sheet of paper” for creating your branching scenario. You will learn how to create a basic scenario using Inklewriter, but first we will talk about planning the scenario. It is very important to have an outline of how you want your scenario to “flow” and the choices you want the player to be able to make.

How to Design a CYOA Interactive Fiction Game

The key concept behind creating a CYOA branching scenario is that you must give players the opportunities to make choices during the scenario. These choices should in some way change the actual flow of the scenario. In a traditional story (such as in a book you might read), the story flows in one direction (linearly) from start to finish, like this:

There are no choices to be made, because the storyteller, author, or instructional designer has already decided what will happen and in what order everything takes place. In a CYOA branching scenario, however, certain places in the story allow the player to choose the direction.

The above diagram is an example of a story that branches after the beginning into two different paths. The player may select one of two options, and the result be a different ending. It is possible to have many options in the middle portion of your branching scenario, and this may result in more possible endings. Below is an example.

We see that after the beginning branches into two paths, those two paths branch into two more paths before getting to the four possible endings. You can imagine how big this map could become if you added several more levels that branch in between.

Your map can be as simple or as complex as you like. And it is even possible to have the branches of the scenario come back together instead of always separating. On a map, that might look something like the following:

You can see in the above diagram that there are multiple paths that will take the player to the different endings. Although this is a more challenging scenario to create, it is often the most satisfying to play because of all the choices a player may make.

Planning the Story

When planning your story for the scenario, you will need to do the following things:

  • Gather your materials, just as you would for a formal report or presentation. You will want to find good sources, especially those that might depict a narrative regarding the subject matter you expect to cover.
  • Since your scenario will be in the form of a story, you may want to identify key figures with whom your scenario player might have “conversations,” such as an HR manager, professor, or characters from an historical event.
  • You may want to think about a particular event or activity for your story, such as an employee review, a meeting between colleagues, or even a past war.
  • You will want to decide the location in which the events of your game takes place. That location may be inside a building like a library, a government building, a city, or even a combination of places.
  • You will want to identify objects that might have significance to the story you want to tell. For example, there may be a set of forms that contains information you want your game player to know, or there may be a policy manual to be reviewed.
  • You should create a navigation map on paper first, outlining the story and the action choices where the story branches. Index cards might be a good tool for you to use.

As you write your branching scenario, the places where the story branches into different paths are where the player chooses different actions to take. For example:

You are in a field of rolling hills on a sunny day. Not too far in front of you, you see a jet fighter that has crash landed. The canopy of the jet is open, and the pilot was able to get out of the plane safely. He is sitting on the ground next to the jet.

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

The paragraph of text “sets the stage” for this part of the scenario. This particular scenario might be about describing historical actions taken during the Six Day War. After encountering the pilot, the player has two choices to make:

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

For each choice, you must decide what happens next. Let’s look at how to do this in Inlkewriter.

On the “blank” Inklewriter page you would type a title for your scenario (“A Pilot’s Tale” in this example), your name, and the paragraph of introductory text. Then you would click on the “Add option” button to type in your action choices:

  • You ask the pilot what happened.
  • You turn around and run to find help.

To enter text that should be connected to the particular action, you click on the arrow button on the right side of that action. That will bring up another text box for you to enter the next section of your scenario.

To continue the story after the choice of “You ask the pilot what happened,” you should think of the next part of the story and compose the text in a way that makes sense. For example, this could be the next section (as shown above):

The pilot looks up at you and says, “We saw that Egyptian forces were being built up on our border along the Sinai Peninsula. Our air force was given the command on June 5th to launch a pre-emptive airstrike.” He pauses for a moment, and you notice that his lips are chapped.

  • You offer the pilot your canteen.
  • You ask what happened to the Egyptians.

As you build out the different areas of your scenario, you may want to check the progress of your navigation by clicking on the “map” link at the top of screen. This will bring up a visual representation of the flow of your scenario such as the one below. The map that Inklewriter displays as you create your scenario should closely resemble the outline you first made when developing your scenario idea.

From here, you will continue to add branches and narrative blocks in the same manner. You may add as many branching choices as you like to each section, but more than three or four choices becomes difficult to manage. You will continue this process until all your branching paths lead to a conclusion in the scenario.

We have only touched upon some of the most basic functionality within Inklewriter so that your first experience using the system is straightforward. There are a number of resources for Inklewriter available, and within the Inklewriter authoring system there is a “tutorial” link in the top menu bar that provides a lot of helpful information.

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Filed under games, gamification, Hap Aziz, Inklewriter, instructional design, narrative, play, simulation, storytelling, text adventure, text adventure games

Second Chance for Second Life?

thumbby Hap Aziz

Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education website, Jeffrey R. Young has an article titled, “Remember Second Life? Its Fans Hope to Bring VR Back to the Classroom.” I do remember Second Life, and I actually used in some college courses I taught about eight or nine years ago. It was primarily a tool where I could gather with students for additional lecture time outside of the classroom, and often it was a combination of socializing and course content Q&A. Fortunately, my students were comfortable with technology (the course was on the subject of digital design), otherwise I would not have been able to provide the technical support to get the students signed up, logged in, and comfortable in the environment. The technology is smoother now, but I wouldn’t recommend it for students not confident in their online computing skills.

The history of Second Life is interesting in that it began as a possible game world framework, but the development environment was so robust, SL morphed into an open-ended virtual space that really had no particular purpose. This was both its advantage and its curse, as enthusiastic users that saw potential in the technology worked at finding a purpose for the platform. Many higher education institutions acquired space in SL, and educators used it for lectures, office hours with remote students, and a variety of other activities somehow connected with learning. And while the individual users may have designed unique personal avatars, the education spaces, for the most part, were representation of real campus locations (or at least could have been real). There are a number of reasons SL was unable to sustain itself at its heyday level of engagement, and Young explores them in his article in connection with the latest tech wave of Virtual Reality innovation. Second Life, in fact, is looking to ride the new VR wave with its Project Sansar (indeed, if you go to the SL site, you’ll see that you can explore SL with the Oculus Rift, which is a step in that direction).

Will the addition of 3D VR breathe new life into Second Life? As a technology, there is no question that VR has great novelty out of the gate. But I still believe that without some sort of meta-narrative point to drive engagement, SL could go through another bubble-burst cycle. By “meta-narrative,” I mean that Second Life itself needs to have a point, rather than offer itself up as an environment where users can do anything they want. Why enter a virtually real world to “just hang out and look around” when we can much more easily accomplish that in the really real world?

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Filed under avatars, colleges and universities, education, emerging technologies, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, higher education, higher education institutions, holograms, narrative, simulation, technology, virtual classrooms, virtual college, virtual reality, virtual worlds

The Seduction of the Senses

thumbBack in October of 2011, I wrote an almost tweet-length blog entry on the transformation of education through an accident of technology (read it here). While I didn’t provide any details regarding that particular technology, if you have heard me speak on the topic, you know that I’m referring to the invention of  the alphabet.

My basic premise is this: human beings evolved to learn a particular way, which is through the use of all our senses in combination with lived experiences and traditions passed down from generation to generation, usually in one-to-one (or one-to-few) relationships. There were natural limitations to that education paradigm regarding the storage of information, the ability to pass on information without personal presence, and the facilitation of one-to-many teaching and learning relationships. The invention of the alphabet (first hieroglyphic and then later phonetic) essentially removed those limitations over time; however, at the expense of introducing an entirely new barrier to learning content: the requirement to learn how to code and decode symbolic information–the requirement to learn how to read and write before learning actual content.

The invention of the alphabet changed the way in which humans learn, and our model of education reflects the necessary prerequisite of literacy before learning: the first years of schooling is focused on teaching our children how to code and decode the alphabet in order to unlock content stored and conveyed primarily through text. Ultimately, the way in which our civilization has set up the learning enterprise is not the way we humans are built to learn; yet here we are at a point in history where a convergence of modern technologies is dangling the promise of another possible transformation to education. The digital technologies that appeal to our dominant senses of sight and sound have become sophisticated enough to meaningfully engage and (apparently) facilitate learning without the need to code and decode the alphabet. Hand some iPads to a room full of three-year-olds and watch what they learn to do without having to read a word.

This phenomenon hasn’t been lost on educators. There are studies on the use of video games to enhance the education experience (“Effect of Computer-Based Video Games on Children: An Experimental Study” and “Digital Game-Based Learning in high school Computer Science education: Impact on educational effectiveness and student motivation“); there are books and articles published on the subject (What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy and “4 Innovative Ways to Teach with Video Games: Educators from around the Country Share Their Best Practices for Using Educational and Consumer Games to Improve Students’ Engagement and Performance“); organizations have been created and conferences are held to share the latest best practices and even how to secure grant and investment funding for new and innovative learning video games (Higher Education Video Game Alliance and GDC Education Summit); and there are even education games being produced by Nobel Laureates (Nobelprize.org). Intuitively this seems to make sense, and I’m not going to present or argue data here. At the very least there are the educators who feel it might be beneficial to have learners as engaged in course content as players are in their game content.

Several questions come to mind when we consider the use of video games in education. How do we align gameplay with course learning objectives? What technology is required to play games, and how to we ensure access across the digital divide? What is the time commitment necessary to play the game to the point of content relevancy? Perhaps one of the most important questions to answer relates to the cost of game production. The new generation of computer games that is so attractive to so many educators and education policy makers is very expensive to produce in terms of time, development personnel, and funding. Everone seems to want to build the AAA game title in order to excite students about the history of English literature, but who can realistically hire dozens of developers and pay millions of dollars over the course of a year or more to produce that game? How did we get to the point where this is a serious question?

This is all a result of the seduction of our senses when it comes to modern video games. Everyone loves the breathtakingly realistic game visuals and film-like quality. And just like a blockbuster motion picture, the soundtrack and voice talent can tremendously enhance the experience. Make no mistake: these are characteristics that draw in game players, and educators see these as the same characteristics that will draw in learners. However, these characteristics aren’t what make games effective for either entertainment or education.

When imagination is combined with the power of abstraction, the artifact used to engage players (or learners) is a secondary consideration. That’s why a person is able to get as much enjoyment out of reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy as from seeing the films. Or why the same person can play either Call of Duty or chess and enjoy them both as games of war. The power of abstraction is amazingly effective when it comes to experiential engagement.

And it’s that power of abstraction that may allow us to “dial back” on the need for the AAA educational game with the AAA development requirements. As much as I welcome the digital media revolution that is poised to re-engage all of our senses in learning, I would suggest a more technologically humble approach to educational game design that would leverage less resource-hungry production models and recommit to the process of coding and decoding symbolic information: the old-school text adventure game from the genre of Interactive Fiction computer games.

What makes Interactive Fiction (IF) so appealing in the context of education are the same things that are problematic in using more multisensory intense simulation-like games. IF games are less difficult, resource intensive, and costly to develop. As a result, they can be customized for specific learning scenarios, and it is conceivable that micro-teams of instructors and storytellers might build IF game scenarios for individual assignments, tightly aligned with course learning objectives. There is existing research that addresses the learning efficacy of IF games (much of it dated from the mid- to late-1980s mainly because that was when IF games peaked in popularity), and the findings are largely positive regarding learner engagement.

While the traditional IF game was truly a text-only experience, the genre has expanded to include simple illustrations that supplement the narrative experience. In this way, a visual component is added, and the development effort remains low. The result is something that might be more akin to an Interactive Graphic Novel (IGN) rather than the traditional IF game. Consider the IF game 80 Days, designed by Inkle Studios. In a field of games dominated by 3D simulations and fast-paced shooters and RPGs, 80 Days is a testament to the power of abstraction and solid narrative. In a review of the game published in PC Gamer magazine, the reviewer (Andy Kelly) wrote the following:

80 Days can be funny, poignant, and bittersweet. It can be sad, scary, exciting, and sentimental. It all depends on the path you take and the choices you make. The story deals with issues like racism and colonialism far more intelligently than most games manage. Every trip is a whirlwind of emotions, and by the end you feel like you’ve gone on a personal, as well as a physical, journey.

And because there are so many branching paths, it’s extremely replayable. I’ve gone around the world seven times now, and every journey has felt like a new experience. Every time you complete a circumnavigation, additional stories and events unlock, giving you even more incentive to try again. It’s also brilliantly accessible and easy to play, making it the perfect game to share with someone who never, or rarely, plays them.

In other words, this IF game is exactly what we look for in an engaging game experience. What’s interesting to note is that the game was widely praised and recognized for the quality of gameplay. The New Yorker magazine listed it as one of The Best Video Games of 2014. Not only did 80 Days make Time magazine’s Top 10 list, but it it was ranked as the number 1 game for 2014. The fact that 80 Days garnered so many awards and accolades is a strong indicator that the IF genre doesn’t need to take a backseat to AAA titles.

I am not advocating an abandonment of the use of AAA games in education. Rather, it’s important that we use development resources wisely, matching gameplay to learning outcomes. It may make complete sense to pair robust multimedia experiences with particular capstone courses, for example, or in classroom settings that ultimately touch a large number of students. And as the cost in time and development declines while the capability of the production technology improves, we’ll no doubt see more opportunities to integrate AAA games into curriculum. In the meantime, graphically-enhanced Interactive Fiction is a tool that can help educators provide engaging and pedagogically relevant gameplay learning experiences to their students in relatively short order at relatively low cost.

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Filed under computer games, digital divide, education, education course content, education funding, education technology, future technology, games, gamification, government funding, grant funding, Hap Aziz, higher education, instructional design, Interactive Fiction, Interactive Graphic Novels, learning, learning outcomes, narrative, play, simulation, text adventure, Text Adventure Development System, text adventure games, Uncategorized, video games

The Significance of Experiencing Learning

thumbIn a previous blog entry, I wrote about the future of education as depicted in Science Fiction, realizing even that genre does not often share a vision of the learning enterprise. And when it does, the teaching and learning endeavor is protrayed most often as rather unchanged from the present day approach. Yes, there are exceptions such as the direct-to-brain information downloading technique utilized for skills training in The Matrix, but that’s rare. (Hogwarts from the fantasy world of the Harry Potter stories is an absolute disaster as an education model.)

If we’re going to imagine the future, it is the direct-to-brain (d2b) downloading process that seems to be most interesting as a truly new education paradigm. Not only would it effectively address learning outcomes achievement, it would dramatically reduce the time required to acquire knowledge and master skills (at least as the fictional process is defined). To be sure, there are obvious technology hurdles to be overcome: creating the brain-machine interface and determining how to encode information so that it can be accessed through the standard memory recollection process are two of the more obvious challenges. But let’s say we crack the technology. Could people actually learn that way and ultimately retain what they learned?

To run through this thought experiment, it would be helpful to use a fictional model that defines the process and provides a framework for our assumptions. While the concept of digital compression of information fed into the brain has been used several times in Science Fiction (Scalzi’s Old Man’s War series, Whedon’s Dollhouse, the Wachowskis’ Matrix trilogy), it is the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Inner Light” that is based on the central theme of the digital information transfer and what actually takes place in the “learner’s” mind during the process.

Written by Morgan Gendel, “The Inner Light” is about remembering the experiences of a lifetime without having to live through that life in real time. Briefly, the technical scenario within the plot is this: an alien probe finds Captain Picard and creates a wireless link to his brain. Through the link, the probe downloads an entire lifetime’s worth of experiences into Picard’s brain. From his perspective, it is all completely real, and he thinks he is living that life: having children, learning to play the flute, suffering the death of his best friend, having grandchildren, and watching his wife grow old and eventually die). In real-time, however, only 25 minutes has elapsed. When the download is complete and the link is broken, Picard discovers the entire life he lived was just an interactive simulation of experiences placed in his memory… and that he now knows how to play the flute as he learned it in his simulated life.

What interests me about this particular concept of d2b downloading is that it addresses the context of experience in memory. Whatever a person learns, whether it is the alphabet, discrete facts such as names or dates, complex lines of reasoning, or sequenced physical skills like playing the flute, the act of learning is wrapped in a broader experience of what the person was doing during the learning activity. How important is this, especially when it comes to having the learning “stick”?

In 1890, Williams James noted that human consciousness appeared to be continuous. John Dewey observed much the same thing, and in 1932 wrote:

As an individual passes from one situation to another, his world, his environment, expands or contracts. He does not find himself living in another world but in a different part or aspect of one in the same world. What he has learned in the way of knowlege and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with the situations which follow. The process goes on as long as life and learning continue.

Dewey is telling us that learning is a continuum, and lessons learned (formal or not) become the foundation for lessons yet to be learned. Certainly this makes sense to us intuitively, and there is research indicating pre-established schema expedites more rapid memory consolidation in the brain. Which is a way of saying that we learn things more quickly if we already have a context for understanding what we’re learning.

But what are the implications for d2b learning as Picard experienced? What Picard experienced, while not logically flowing from his past life (he was, after all, just “dropped” into a new life story), was a narrative built upon the concepts which he already understood: marriage, friendship, birth, death, and so on. And when he learned a particular skill–playing the flute–it made sense to him in that he already knew what a flute was, what playing a flute involved, and so on. There was not anything going on so “alien” that it would not fit into the pre-existing schema he had been constructing since his own birth.

Perhaps more significant is that the skills that Picard learned had a subjective real-time element even though the simulation was digitally compressed. In Picard’s mind, he learned to play the flute because he actually practiced playing the flute, over years in subjective time. Therefore, when he picked up the flute in the real world, he was drawing on the memories of his experience of practice. It wasn’t that he just woke up with a new skill that came out of nowhere.

Interestingly, there is evidence that mental practice can improve real-world performance at some activities such as sports or music. One study had participants mentally practice a sequence on an imaginary piano for some time daily, and the participants displayed the same neurological changes as those who practiced physically instead. It’s possible that mental practice and physical practice both activate the same brain regions involved in skills learning.

Experience, though, is multifaceted, and it is not simply a dispassionate sequence of events, recorded and played back in some documentary style. In learning, there is the idea of how engaged the learner is with the subject matter at hand, and again it doesn’t matter if the topic is the Pythagorean Theorem or Lord Byron’s poem “She Walks in Beauty.” Jennifer Fredricks talks about three types of engagement that may influence learning: cognitive engagement: what we are thinking about our learning; behavioral engagement: what we are doing while we’re learning; and emotional engagement: what our feelings are about our learning. It seems difficult to imagine that a simple d2b data dump would involve all three of those categories, unless the d2b transfer allowed a person to live what was being learned.

Admittedly, this is all conjecture over a Science Fiction idea, and for now, there is no way to run any actual tests. The potential for d2b learning is intriguing in that it may provide a solution for many of today’s education challenges, provided the technology is even possible. At the same time, it presents many questions regarding the true nature of the learning process. We are analog beings that make use of our senses in real-time to learn from the world around us. If we somehow could bypass our senses and compress years of experience into minutes of transfer time, how would we interpret the experience? How would we remember what we learned, and what would those memories feel like to us? Based on what we know today, I’d say that learning is not possible without experience. Whether it is real or virtual may not matter, but without an experiential framework, transfered information is just noise without meaning.

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Filed under consciousness, direct-to-brain, education, experience, future technology, Hap Aziz, learning, narrative, neuroscience, Science Fiction, simulation, Star Trek, technology, virtual identity, virtual worlds

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

Gamification of Education: Balancing Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation

by Martin LaGrow

The bleeding-edge blogosphere of education is alive and well, and the topic du jour is gamification.  It is a concept that is already being utilized aggressively in other markets, but there is a lot of debate about whether it has a place in education.  As with most new trends, we are dealing with evolving terminology with no pre-established definition.  As gamification takes on different directions in different contexts, no doubt people will be using the term without an agreed-upon understanding of what it is.  Gamification of education is not just the addition of games to academics—that concept is as old as education itself.  We can all think of games we played in the classroom as kids that complemented learning.  Nor does it necessarily speak toward the application of gaming technology to education.  Rather, gamification is the application of the mechanism and structure of gaming to a traditionally non-game focused context—in this case, the classroom.  According to Joey Lee and Jessica Hammer’s insightful paper, Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother?, gamification is “The incorporation of game elements into non-game settings.”  The website GamifyingEducation.org goes into more detail, expanding the definition as it applies to education to include “…the use of game mechanics and dynamics like badges, leaderboards, and actions…for improving motivation and learning in informal and formal settings.”

Before discussing this in the context of education, let’s take a look at how gamification has infiltrated another industry:  health and fitness.  Virgin’s Healthmiles program is a classic example of gamification in action.  Designed to assist employers in promoting healthy lifestyles for their employees, the Healthmiles program exemplifies all of the hallmarks of gamification.  Employee progress toward a healthier lifestyle is quantitatively tracked.  Participants earn badges for various accomplishments, “level up” when they reach certain milestones, and can even compete against coworkers and other program participants through social networking.  Successful attainment of goals is also incentivized with HealthCash.  Virgin has successfully capitalized on the principles that make gamification effective.

Proponents of gamification in education see it as a cure for the malaise affecting our schools.  Students lack motivation.  Efforts to engage them through traditional means are failing.  On the surface, gamification seems like it may be the solution.  According to gamification.org,

“Gamification… doesn’t rely on internal motivation (emphasis mine). Instead, it’s using the oldest tricks in the book: providing instantaneous feedback, egging on the competition, and rewarding even tiny steps of progress. Gamification assumes that the player isn’t especially motivated — at least at the beginning — and then provides barrels of incentives to ramp up that motivation.”  In other words, proper application of external motivation can prime the pump, if you will, of internal motivation and drive success.  While this may be true to a point, it is certainly not a panacea—and some will respond more to this type of motivation than others.

Let’s apply this logic to the Virgin HealthMiles program.  It’s a great notion—after all, who doesn’t want to be healthier?  Who doesn’t agree that exercising more and feeling better about themselves is important?  And this program rewards and incentivizes what we all know we should be doing!  So what rate of participation would you expect in such a program?  Seventy-five percent?  Fifty percent?  According to Virgin, “Our approach…attracts an average of 40% of employees.”  Clearly, external motivation cannot drive success in a vacuum!  While forty percent of employees taking steps (literally) toward a healthier lifestyle is certainly a good thing, what contributes to the 60%, on average, that do not participate in the program?  The answer, in part, is lack of intrinsic motivation.

Applied in an academic context, while gamification can certainly be an effective tool to produce desirable results in some measureable contexts, it is no replacement for internal motivation.  Students need to understand the value of the tasks that they are performing in order to achieve sustainable learning.  A life-long learner is not fostered by extrinsic motivation.  When the motivator is removed, the learner must understand the value of learning for its own sake.

Gamification certainly can and should play a role in the evolution of education.  However, as in all things, it is wise to avoid extremes.  Gamification is rooted in incentive theory.  Understanding this, before any major shift is made toward gamifying education in any context, it is important to understand other theories of motivation (drive theory, humanistic theory, arousal theory, etc.) to best address the needs of all learners.

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Filed under computer games, education, education technology, games, gamification, Martin LaGrow, simulation

Game Developers’ Conference 2012: Wrapping Up from an Education Perspective

by Hap Aziz

The Game Developers’ Conference (GDC 2012) has reached endgame here in San Francisco, and there are many thousands of weary game developers, producers, artists, designers, investors, educators, and miscellaneous interested parties bugging out and heading home. I’m one of them. What I thought I would do over the next several posts here is take some of the session descriptions and provide some commentary on the relevance and relationship of the topics to the landscape of teaching and learning. I’ve seen many interesting potential connections between the game industry and education during my attendance in years past, and this time around was no exception. In fact, I saw greater engagement and participation from educators during this year’s conference than I have before. That’s quite heartening to those of us who see the potential for gaming techniques and technologies integrated with the mission of education.

More to come, so keep watching this space!

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Filed under announcement, colleges and universities, computer games, creativity, education, education technology, games, Hap Aziz, simulation, technology

Game Developers’ Conference 2012

by Hap Aziz

The Game Developers’ Conference is taking place in San Francisco this week, and I’ll be in attendance from Wednesday through Friday. I’ve been a regular attendee since the late 1990s when I served on the board of the Computer Game Developers’ Association. Back then, David Weinstein of Red Storm Entertainment (who served on the board of the International Game Developers’ Network) and I were charged with merging the CGDA and IGDN. We did, and that’s how the International Game Developers’ Association was born. Attending the GDC is a homecoming of sorts, where I get to connect with some of the wonderful folks I’ve met since I started developing software for the Amiga computer many years ago.

My interests now aren’t purely about game design, but I value the opportunity to apply game development techniques to the teaching and learning experience. I expect I’ll learn quite a few things this year, and I hope to bring back some great news and information to share in this blog. For those of you that plan to be at the conference, let me know, and perhaps we can meet and swap notes. And for those of you unable to attend but interested in something in particular, shoot me a note and let me know; I’ll be happy to do some research for you!

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Filed under announcement, computer games, creativity, education technology, emerging technologies, future technology, games, Hap Aziz, simulation, technology, video

Video Games: a New Frontier in 21st Century Learning

by Lauren Gosnell

Lauren is currently working with Datatel+SGHE as an intern on the Academic Services team. She has been conducting research on the current trends and concerns within higher education on topics ranging from remediation strategies to the integration of computer game technologies in the education environment.  Lauren feels her experience will give her the background and knowledge to help her grow in her passion around teaching and learning issues within higher education. This article represents some of her recent research, and it is a valuable contribution to the broader discussion around gaming and student engagement. Lauren recently graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Psychology.

It has become clear that the way we educate children needs to change.   The National Science Foundation found that in 2002 the U.S. ranked 73 out of 91 countries in the percentage on college students obtaining a bachelor’s degree in science or engineering.  This is not a problem created by universities alone, but rather one that begins in early education.  A 2003 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and Program for International Student Assessment test found that U.S. 4th graders are 12th in the world in math and 24th by the 12th grade.  This trend continues across all subjects.  Traditional teaching methods are failing these struggling students and new frontiers must be sought before U.S. students are left behind in the dust.  A promising new frontier lies in the implementation of video games in learning.  Video games are currently being used for educational purposes across age groups and in a variety of ways that are proving more successful than traditional teaching methods of the past.

Kurt Squire’s article, “Changing the Game: What Happens When Video Games Enter the Classroom?” reveals a case study on Civilization III, a game which packs in 6000 years of history to be explored.  This study of two groups of middle school students found mixed results on this game in particular.  In one test group, 25% of the students found the game to be too difficult, but most promising was the game playing effect on typically unmotivated students.  The students receiving the poorest grades and who showed the lowest class participation were the ones most captivated and outspoken while playing the game.  In a similar study in “Games for Science and Engineering Education,” Merrilea Mayo describes a different group a middle school students and their results playing an electrostatics game called Supercharged.  Students who played this game along with receiving the typical lecture increased their test scores by 28% while students who received the lecture alone only increased their test score by 15%.  Some students do fine in the typical lecture based classes, but many students crave a more interactive approach and these games satisfy that need.  Students learn in a variety of ways and the way we teach should better reflect that.

Video games are not only useful for children.  Mayo also discusses a Northern Illinois University numerical methods course that used a race car game as homework.  This game lead to students being willing to spend twice as much time on homework and resulted in 80% of these students taking the next advanced course.  In Digital Game Based Learning: Educational Video Games, the author discusses North Carolina State University’s new interactive games designed to enhance geology and biology courses.  A widely acclaimed game called Foldit is discussed by Greg Toppo in “White House Office Studies Benefits of Video Games.”  This game was designed by the University of Washington and teaches players about the shapes of proteins.  Using this game, players were able to analyze monkey HIV protein in 10 days that had eluded researchers for 15 years.  This game is thought to be potentially beneficial in Alzheimer’s, AIDS, and cancer research.  These colleges are recognizing the importance of creating new avenues for learning and embracing the potential of 21st century video games in doing so.

Video games are also being used in a new generation of surgeons.  In “The Impact of Video Games on Training Surgeons in the 21st Century,” Rosser et. al detail a game called Top Gun which when played for 3 hours a week was shown to decrease surgery errors by 37% and increase surgery speeds by 27%.  Video games could be used more and more in the future as a practical teaching tool in training better, more efficient surgeons.  These games have allowed video games to take the broad leap from fun time-waster to a life saving tool.

High school students looking to get into the best colleges are receiving increasing pressure to achieve the highest SAT and ACT scores.  These scores can determine the college they get in to, the classes they are allowed to take, and ultimately their careers.  Students seeking to gain an edge over their peers are constantly looking for better study models and this has served as a vehicle for the introduction of video games in the college prepatory market.  One such game is Zero Hour Threat, an interactive game where each correct answer leads the player one step closer to stopping international criminals. Two other games, discussed by Barbara Ortutay in “SAT Prep Services Get Into Video Games,” currently on the market are “futureU”, designed with Kaplan Inc., and the Princeton Review’s My SAT Coach.  These games are easily marketable to students by making them available in a variety of forms from Nintendo DS to iPhones. Further studies need to be done to determine their effectiveness. Based off of what researchers, such as Squire, have already found though about interactive learning and its increase in the complexity and depth of what is learned, these interactive video games could be only the beginning of a continuing trend.

For years, students have been silently pleading for better ways to learn.  Traditional lecture format classes are not engaging many students and they are falling behind their peers, both here and worldwide.  Mayo’s article states that the average student spends 6.8 hours a week playing video games and up to 5-8 hours on homework (for college bound students).  If game makers and educators could combine these two activities, students could be spending more time than ever learning and doing so in a more engaging complex way.  Better games need to be designed to fit this emerging market that better combine the games students already love with the information they need to know.  By doing this, students who have struggled in the past may have finally found their niche in 21st century learning.

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Using Gaming Systems as Modern Learning Tools

by Martin LaGrow

The advancement of gaming technology from one generation to the next is mind-boggling. It’s hard to believe that in what has become known as the ‘Video Game Crash of 1983,’ the industry virtually fell out of existence, with revenues dropping from $3.2 billion to $100 million in 1985.  The cause of the market crash was also fertile grounds for the solution—a glut of subpar and poorly developed games and systems drove consumers away.  The solution, therefore, was a focus on innovation and quality to woo consumers.  Ultimately, the Nintendo 64 and Sony’s Playstation reinvigorated the market in the mid 1990’s.  Microsoft entered the game and elevated competition with its Xbox in 2001, in side by side competition with the new Nintendo GameCube.  It’s hard to find solid numbers because the definition of video gaming can vary, but most estimates indicate that industry revenue is now over $20 billion a year.  Current developments of the Wii and Xbox 360 prove that companies are still willing to innovate and invest to take their fair share of a very large pie.  Market penetration is significant—sales estimates in the United States would indicate that over half of US households have at least one advanced gaming system. The likelihood of the market compressing again as it did in 1983 is slim to none.  Consoles are advancing in technological capability much faster and in different directions than the home PC, tablet, and mobile device.  Is there an implication in the advancement of these platforms for education?  If LMS designers are open-minded, there certainly could be.

The concept of using a gaming console for learning is certainly not new. Pictured, an Xbox is employed at the AT&T Oaks Course outside San Antonio to help golfers lower their handicaps before actually embarking on the course.  By using the Xbox Kinect, one can imagine that the same Xbox will soon analyze and advise the same golfers about their swing.

Another classic example is the evolution from Rock Band to Rocksmith. Whereas users once plugged a toy push-button guitar into their game consolses, all of their time invested was wasted when it comes to real-world application. With the advent of Rocksmith, the guitar used is now the real deal—meaning gameplay is translated to real-world skills. Though many critics pan the game and its effectiveness, it is only a first incarnation. If the market demands it, new versions will evolve that increase effectiveness.

More academic pursuits are already available.  For example, “Let’s Learn Japanese” (http://marketplace.xbox.com/en-US/Product/Lets-Learn-Japanese-Beginner/66acd000-77fe-1000-9115-d802585504ac) is an early venture into language learning.  Microsoft also now partnering with Sesame Workshop and National Geographic to pitch the Kinect as a potential tool for ‘embodied learning’ that puts children right into the action (http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gamehunters/post/2011/10/microsoft–kinect–xbox-360-learning/1).

So how can the innovation and advanced interactive features of the current generation of game consoles be harnessed for higher education?  The answer may lie in supplementing online learning environments rather than replacing them. Consider the strengths of the game console as a potential supplemental tool to bolster the weaknesses of the traditional LMS:

Ease of navigation and familiarity to users. Students who grew up interacting in a three-dimensional online world can easily translate those skills to academic challenges.  If navigation through academic software mimics traditional RPG’s with user friendly tools like Kinect and the Wii remote, there is one less hurdle to separate student from success.  The fear of navigating a new online system is summarily removed.

Interconnectivity. Many games rely on the integration of game consoles with internet activity. For example, the Wii version of Club Penguin allows children to transfer their achievements and rewards to their online Club Penguin account, accessed through a web browser.  All that is required is a network connection.  Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure takes it one step further, and records data via RFID to figurines, which can then be synchronized online as well.  The point is, if students can complete exercises, master objectives, and progress sequentially in course material on their game console, that information is very easily submitted and stored to an online LMS.

Standalone functionality.  Every LMS is based on the assumption that students have consistent, high-speed internet connectivity.  Furthermore, a high volume of server capacity is necessary for large institutions to support all students.  Server downtime or network congestion can frustrate students attempting to frantically meet deadlines.  If students can complete drill-and-practice work, view videos, and participate in simulations locally on their game console, and rely on internet connectivity only for the purpose of uploading and recording progress, the demands on network speeds and server capacity are reduced.

Availability and inexpensiveness.  The processing power of an Xbox 360, for the cost of under $300, rivals most laptops (the custom CPU is a triple core processor running at 3.2 GHz) and the graphics power is naturally better (500 MHz GPU with 512 mb GDDR3 RAM).  The amount of downtime due to viruses, hard drive failures, etc. becomes almost a non-issue compared to what students experience with their laptops.  And as mentioned previously, a great many households already have access to game consoles.

I’m not suggesting that playing video games replace scholarly writing or course interaction in online LMS’s.  I am, however, suggesting that we can harness the power of the tools that already exist to provide an exciting and different way to engage students, taking full advantage of technology the PC world has not yet embraced. The PC is being left behind in the way people use technology today, and replaced with tablets, PDA’s, and even game consoles.  It’s time for the world of education to innovate in these different spaces to engage today’s learner.

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