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The Next Stage of Edugaming

August 4, 2011 1 comment

While many have thought the blog aspect of my portfolio had been long abandoned, I have merely been biding my time and diligently playing around with the ideas floating in my head and I feel it is now time to make the announcement I’ve been waiting for since starting my portfolio.

Today is the first day of the pre-planning phase of a colossal endeavor I have been referring to as “The Next Stage of Edugaming”. Many of you have probably played an “educational game” at one point or another (if you haven’t). Not once have I ever heard the words “Wow, this educational game is really fun” spoken by a student, a teacher, or a parent. Why? Well to be blunt, they aren’t fun and they never will be. Almost every educational game created is little more than a glorified drill with a couple fancy lights. They often stem from an incredible ignorance of both the education and gaming sectors. Authentic learning does not come from mindless repetition and a timelessly fun game takes more than a couple input commands from the player. If Edugaming is to survive, then we must admit the current course we’re on will not work. It is time we seperate “educational games” from “edugaming” and develop a philosophy that better understands the nuances and subtleties of both worlds. Rather than cramming a specific educational skill into a game (a la Number Crunchers), we should instead carefully examine what aspects truly make a game fun to play, then meticulously find a proper place we may incorporate these aspects into education, while still maintaining opportunities for authentic learning. This goes beyond video or board games. All games have certain commonalities that make the player want to come back for more and if we can find these traits and use them, our students will want to come back to learn more.

It is my hope that, through a lot of research, coding, and graphic design (will definitely need help on the last one), Edugaming can become much more than it is today, mostly seen as a token add on in most classrooms. My prototype for this will be an interactive platform that treats the whole concept of  school more as a fun game. When all of the components have been completed, I expect to have a completely redesigned classroom, both in philosophy and in space, allowing students to both achieve curriculum standards and pursue their own learning, all while, here’s the kicker, wanting to for the enjoyment of it. The first step in getting there is a big one so without sugar coating it…

There must be a complete overhaul of traditional assessment – Games assess players much differently than teachers assess students. With letter and number grading, what you’re essentially telling a student is “This is the best anyone can do for this assignment”. What often happens then, is the student factors in the requirements of a high grade and the desire for such a grade to determine his/her personal involvement with the subject matter, which can end up being quite low as a result. Games take a different approach, telling the player “Using this information or set of equipment, how high of a score can you get?” Games directly challenge the player, giving them a task that can never fully be completed, but always improved upon. If you didn’t perform as well as you want, try again with a new strategy. Games encourage experimentation, which is paramount to authentic learning, in contrast to the rather formulaic, linear assessment of schools today. What I intend to do then, is first create a system of assessment based off gaming principles and subsequently translate that system as best as I can to a traditional form of assessment. After all, the report card will still have to say A, B, C, D, or F (much to my protest).

Secondly, The psychological aspects of gaming need to be brought in to the classroom – This was sort of hinted at in the above section but gaming has an entire world of psychology it incorporates to engage the player, from it’s use of operant conditioning to it’s unique variation on the Hierarchy of Needs, games are fun and stimulating because they utilize these techniques properly. Again, educational games offer very little in terms of mental stimulus but by carefully examining what makes particular games fun (examples such as World of Warcraft, the Call of Duty franchise, or Pokemon),  I hope to identify and combine these techniques to provide students with incentive to learn both the things the government wants them to learn as well as the things they themselves want to learn about.

Lastly, The structure must be modular – Particularly in the early stages, few teachers, even gamer teachers, will be willing to adopt such a philosophy immediately and completely. Thus, the platform (where students and teachers will interact with the overarching game, such as a website) must be able to accommodate as much or as little immersion as the teacher deems necessary, whether it be for one unit of study, one subject, or the whole year. The system should be easy to move into, out of, and return to.

I haven’t even scratched the surface of everything I’d like to talk about but those will have to wait for a future update. It is now time for shameless plug time. While money is not an issue at this time (research is still free for the most part), I am lacking in manpower. If you, or someone you know, is working in any of the fields listed below and would like to donate a little or a lot of time, mostly for discussion, please feel free to contact me via Twitter @nwgnr, I’d be happy to hear from you.

– Game Design

– Education (Teachers especially)

– Developmental Psychology

– Gamers and/or Students

Hopefully things will get moving shortly and I’ll continue to use the blog as things develop.

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Child Focused Learning

October 18, 2010 Leave a comment

I sat in my ED: Social Studies class the other day when we were told the whole notion of focusing the needs of the child rather than the subject matter. We were asked a very thought provoking question – “As more and more teachers move from the subject matter to the student, what effect will this have on future classrooms?”

The big change I speculate in this was the possibility of 2 teacher classrooms. As we as teachers focus more and more on the individual student and his/her strengths, weaknesses, and needs, I feel class sizes will become increasingly important. It will become increasingly difficult to focus on all 20, 30 or even 40 students in class as we try to meet the needs of every single students in the context of child focused learning.

Personally, I would make it a professional goal to work with the ministry to perhaps do a study. I would be interested in knowing how effective a 2 teacher classroom would be. Obviously there are issues with this, the most prevalent being cost, but it would be nice knowing what the benefits are as well as the drawbacks of having 2 main instructors within a class.

In Saskatchewan, we boast one of the lowest teacher – student ratios in Canada, mainly due to sparse population and numerous rural communities. We also have sub average scores on standardized tests in comparison to the rest of Canada. Though correlation does not equal causation, I often wonder if there is any relation between standardized testing and highly populated classes.

It is clear that lower class sizes make child focused learning easier for the teacher but with this being impossible in larger urban centers, does the addition of a second teacher allow classes to focus on the individual’s development, or does it simply create chaos with multiple models of leadership?

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Project Hero

Recently, my university here in Regina, SK has come under a lot of fire regarding the initialization of Project Hero. Project Hero provides financial funding and support to the dependents of soldiers who have lost their lives in active duty. The program will wave tuition to the dependents as well as provide $1000 a year so long as they remain full time students, under the age of 26, and preserve a 75% average each semester.

16 professors from the University of Regina have voiced their opposition to this program calling it “a glorification of Canadian imperialism in Afghanistan” in an open letter. J. Webber, one of the professors who drafted the letter clarified by saying that the name “Project Hero” implies that Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan is considered “heroic” which the 16 professors disagree with.

While I do see the point that glorification of war is a dangerous cultural activity to take part in, this open letter still seems incredible disrespectful to those serving in our armed forces. The program is not designed to boost support for this particular war we are in. The program makes no mention of Afghanistan or any one war. Rather, it is a social safety net for the families of soldiers. Similar to a life insurance policy that a company may give it’s employees and their families, our country is trying to ensure that the families of fallen soldiers will not suffer more than the deep pain of losing a loved one. The debate for whether we should be in Afghanistan may never truly be resolved but that is by no means grounds to say that the soldiers, who were not consulted before going to a foreign land, can not be heroes. Whether you agree with the high command or not, the soldiers have no choice. They must follow the orders given to them. It is a brave thing to live in an area where you could die at any minute and if a soldier were to die trying to protect me, my country, or any of it’s citizens, no matter whether or not the government should have placed that soldier there in the first place, he or she is still a hero to me.

The professors opposed to this project seem to be thinking far too short term. From what I gathered, I do not believe this project will end when we leave Afghanistan. There will be other conflicts. Whether glorified or not, war is currently inevitable. It seems to me these professors are trying to tell us what heroism is which I find insulting.

It saddens me to think that these broken families should not only suffer the loss of a loved one but also the fear that a child may not be able to receive higher education. With the growing costs of tuition, university could quickly become an unachievable dream to many, especially families who have lost a source of income. While I do not wish to view a soldier as mer source of income, they do provide for their families and that should be recognized as well as their serving of our county.

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“Common Decency”

This video was brought to my attention by another avid gamer friend of mine:

Once again, the debate rages on regarding the pros and cons of video games. Again, my bias of a gamer should be clear however I must completely agree with the first gentleman. There is no question that violence in ALL media is on the rise but what disturbs me about this debate was how readily the non-violent alternative video games were laughed at and not given a second thought. The statements are clear:

Retailers must, by law, prohibit sales of Mature rated games to minors.

There are plenty, loads, tons, and even stacks of games that are suitable for audiences of ALL ages.

To those curious, the “airport scene” described in the video is from the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. This game indeed has a “Mature” rating from the ESRB. Furthermore, the game explicitly allows you, at any time, to skip this “mission” without penalty. In otherwords, for a minor to be exposed to this scene, he/she would need an adult to first buy the game, then a console with unlocked parental controls, then make the decision to play the particular scene. I agree, from experience, that the scene is heart wrenching but I do not see how a child would be able to access the content without parental consent.

One can also not simply discredit an entire industry due to a few products. You can not say movies are evil because they allow the Saw series. Does anyone remember Wii Sports? I seem to recall both adults and children having fun together on the new console from Nintendo. Wii Fit had a lesser but similar effect on bringing parents and children together in the video game world. I would like to emphasize that there are many games like this that both the young and old can enjoy. A “steady diet” of video games will not necessarily cause an impressionable mind to acquire the effects mentioned by Julie in the video. If video games were the true problem, how could educators use the concept so succussfully? I would hypothesize that these symptoms described in the video, especially depression and low self esteem, comes from the lack of parental involvement, not the video games themselves.

I also found this shortly after. Numerous statistics within the video game industry. Of particular interest is the sales by rating and average age.

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If you can teach, you can program

(Obligatory apologies for allowing blog to gather dust)

I often get comments (some flattering, some not)  by other students in the education program. More often than not I am caught working on something techy, especially between classes. Whether it be a simple program to help me understand a programming language a bit more or designing plans to wire up my room in some new and inevitably awesome way, I’m usually met with a blank stare when I answer the question “What’s up?” What’s interesting to me is the response I get from a lot of collegues – “I wish I knew computers that well”

This picks at my brain a bit. I’m proud to say I am still succeeding in my introductory computer science class but the more I tried to reason my grade, the more I realized how similar the field is to education and teaching.

The first step to a computer program is to write out your main algorithm, a step by step sequence of events needed to solve the big problem. Every teacher’s done this in the form of a unit plan. You know what the topic is and determine what steps or lessons you need to understand it. The next thing to do is to break the program up into sub functions that can solve pieces of the puzzle. Lesson plans anyone? Next, determine what variables you need. Teachers: what materials do you need to give your students to solve the problem. Lastly, translate what you want the program to do in a way that the computer will understand you. Sound familiar?

To be clear, I do not wish to compare students to brainless computers but I find it interesting when a teacher, who is able to shape, influence, and impart information on another human being successfully and positively, says he/she “could never understand that [computer science] stuff ever”. If you can teach, you can program.

Computer technology will continue to advance incredibly over time and as teachers, we have two options – watch the marvels of technology and gasp in amazement, or take control and help shape the new landscape that both computers and the internet have provided.

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Internal Sacrifice

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

A common theme among many of my education classes is filling out a short biographical profile sheet. The purpose ranges from mere contact information to a authentic attempt from the instructor to get to know his/her class. While filling one out this semester I came across a question that picked at my brain a bit. Following the question “What do you value about for education (both K-12 and university)” was this:

What has troubled/annoyed you about your educational experience?

I remember my answer clearly. “The subjectiveness of much of the education program. One can succeed merely by agreeing with the professor and saying exactly what is wanted to be heard”. You don’t have to be right, as long as the professor thinks you are. I have experienced this time and time again where, solely for the sake of my grade, I have sacrificed what I believe in just to please the one marking my paper. I am curious to know how common this becomes in the field. How often will I sacrifice my core beliefs and teaching philosophy for the sake of educational politics? Is the solution as easy as finding a new district or will this inevitably come with the job?

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The Corpocracy

January 14, 2010 Leave a comment

To retouch on my previous post, I again feel uneasy about corporations figuring out ways to get inside our heads. I have never been impressed with how we, as society, fawn over brand names and follow the will of corporations so fanatically. To those who have read Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, know what I mean. A section in the novel describes a dystopian future society in which common items (such as movies, and shoes) are permenantly replaced with the brand that makes them (Disneys, Nikes). The government is completely controlled by corporations based on how much money they have and all public policy is made solely in pursuit of profit. Clearly an extreme end of corporate freedom but where is the line to be drawn. We already have Kleenex. We have lobbyists in Ottawa and Washington waiting to prey on any elected member showing the slightest sign of greed. With some clever maneuvering, the corpocracy in Cloud Atlas could easily be obtained.

My fear of this is based on a personal conclusion – Money cancels out logic every time. If you don’t believe me, find out what the “Official Restaurant of the Vancouver Winter Olympics” is. From a profitable perspective, McDonalds will be the predominant food advertisement throughout the games as we welcome tourists from around the globe. Big bucks coming in a month. Now from a logical perspective, everyone knows high athletic performance goes hand in hand with Big Macs right?

I do not feel that corporations are “bad” or “evil” as they are, in fact, not alive and capable of such attributes. It is the people in charge that represent their company and their pursuit to prosper. To assume that any transaction is inheritly good or bad would be foolish but one always needs to remember that a corporation has a duty to maximize profit and the transaction would not be there unless it benefits them in some way.

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