Tag Archives: computer games

Using eSports to Drive Virtual Engagement outside the Online Classroom

In my previous blog entry, I made the statement that it is a mistake trying to replicate the on-ground classroom experience in the online learning environment. Generally speaking, that’s a good statement. So it might seem contradictory to present the rise of eSports as an example of positive trending in online education–if one were to think of eSports as a replication of traditional team sports and sporting activities. There are, in fact, a growing number of colleges and universities with eSports programs (here is one list).

One of the reasons eSports is effective at improving engagement is that it acknowledges the importance to the learner of what takes place outside of the virtual classroom. The majority of efforts to raise learner engagement (and ultimately retention) in online classes focuses around addressing issues directly related to the classes. A lot of faculty training things like participation in discussion forums or grading in a timely and thoughtful manner. Providing tech support so learners’ time online (in class) will not be interrupted.  But there is little done to engage the learner outside of their virtual classroom environment. Leadership likely wonders, “what would be the point?”

The point, certainly, is that educators have long acknowledged what happens outside the classroom is important to learners. It’s part of the reason behind all the extracurricular activities. The beautiful landscaping. The dining experience and varied menu of food items. The bookstore. Student Union. All of that. Oh, and yes, the sports for both student athletes and student spectators. What are the analogs to these activities and facilities for online learners?

It’s exciting that adoption of eSports in higher education is starting to grab hold and grow. It’s still a new cultural shift, though, and it’s not something with which even online students are familiar. That’s why the news that eSports is gaining a foothold in secondary education is so exciting. If learners are exposed to something in their high school years, they’re more likely to bring that with them as a cultural expectation, and it will give them greater comfort with their education experience. This article in Engadget is a good read. The author points out that “Many teachers (and parents) still see video games as a waste of time.” What’s not a waste of time is the effort made to increase engagement for online learners. That represents tremendous value. With the technology being as widely available as it is, along with the ubiquitous familiarity that many online learners already have with the content, the value can be realized with a very low cultural cost.

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Filed under computer games, eSports, games, Hap Aziz, high school, higher education, Uncategorized

Playing Action Games Can Boost Learning

Here’s an interesting article on how video game play can influence learning. I’d give a deeper analysis, but, uh, I need to get back to my game of Destiny on the PS4….

http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/playing-action-video-games-can-boost-learning-78452/

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Filed under computer games, games, Hap Aziz, learning, video games

Identifying Great Video Games for Education

by Hap Aziz

In her blog post “10 Surprising Ways to Spot a Great Video Game,” Shira Lee Katz lists 10 characteristics of video games that have value for learners. Additionally, she provides two example video games for each category, and she provides a brief description of each game along with the intended player age range. Though the game examples are all for learners in elementary school, the characteristic categories can be applied to all age groups at any education level. It would be quite instructive to build such a list for the college-aged population.

Now, an article I would really like to see would be “10 Surprising Ways to Spot a Great Course.” A great hurdle to overcome, of course, is that we do not have a convenient mechanism for learners (or other educators, for that matter) to try out or review courses before actually taking them. Until there is better visibility into the course experience (whether it is online, face-to-face, or any combination in between), it will be exceedingly difficult to compare courses on a wide scale and develop a true rating system that allows the learner-as-consumer to make informed choices about course selection.

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Filed under computer games, education course content, education technology, face-to-face instruction, games, Hap Aziz, online education

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

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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