Friday, 29 April 2005

The Psychology Behind Games

by Anders Hejdenberg, free registration needed to read the article.

Citing from Roger Caillois's book Man, Play, and Games the following is

a useful system of classifying the different types of experiences that are present in games. A game can include just one or all of these different types of experiences.

1. Competition

Activities where players use their skill to overcome the challenge that their opponents offer. The pleasure lies in developing your skills to outmaneuver the opposition. Football and chess are examples of such activities.

2. Chance

Activities where elements of chance can have an impact on the outcome of the game. The pleasure lies in finding ways to minimize the impact of the element of chance, and the excitement of trying to guess the outcome. Games that are based on chance can also give players the illusion of being able to control or foresee the future. Slot machines and lotteries are examples of such activities.

3. Vertigo

Activities that alters the state of mind by disrupting the normal perception of the world, resulting in a pleasurable state of dizziness. Roller coaster rides and skydiving are examples of such activities. [Albert's addition: The preception of time also changes when you are engaged in pleasurable experience. "Time flies"!]

4. Make-Believe

Activities where we create alternate realities in which we are not bound by the constraints of the real world. The pleasure lies in assuming various characteristics and abilities that we do not possess in our normal life. In this state of make-believe we can feel as if we actually possessed the powers of what we have chosen to assimilate. Role-playing, theatre and reading books are examples of such activities.

I believe these are also important elements in designing experiential based learning activity.

The author continues to give us 8 characteristics of "gameness":

1. It's an activity that we feel that we can perform – a challenge that requires skill
2. We need to be able to concentrate on what we are doing
3. We need to have clear goals for our activity
4. We need to get constant feedback on our progress
5. We act with a deep involvement that frees us from our everyday worries
6. We need to exercise control over our environment
7. We become less self-absorbed
8. Our perception of time is altered

This list looks almost like a checklist we would use to evaluate whether a learning activity is good or not. The only exception may be number 6 in the list. I don't think many educators realise that the ability of giving learners control over their environment is critical to the engagement. Most learning activities are designed to give learners limited choices (e.g. multiple choice??? )

The following paragraph is the first paragraph of the summary of part one of the article, with my modifications to make it looks like a summary for an education paper. The original words are deleted and my words are inserted as shown.

Games Learning activities are activities that we have specifically designed to maximize the amount of pleasure and learning we get from them. Games Learning activities are our way of having fun and extending our ability, regardless of our current life situation. In games Learning activities, we do not have to abide to the restrictions of the ordinary world allowing us to make mistakes to test our understanding. We can create our own rules discover where our specific talents can be recognized and rewarded – talents that would perhaps otherwise go unnoticed.

The above paragraph may feel strange. For example, the reference to fun, and current life situation. However, replacing Learning activities with role play simulation as used in the Fablusi role play simulation platform, this would be an almost prefect paragraph to describe the potential learning outcome and benefits.

Thursday, 28 April 2005

Does MSN Search Favor IIS-Hosted Sites?

A study by Ivor Hewitt initiated a discussion among the SEOs (Search Engine Optimisations) about whether MSN search results favour IIS-hosted sites. While the early methodology of Ivor's study is far from perfect, it does show a tendency of MSN search result returns a larger portion of IIS-hosted pages.

Should educators care about such discussion? Probably not as much as the SEOs. But if we are promoting our students to understand information search, resource discovery in particular, then it would be a good topic to monitor.

Tuesday, 26 April 2005

Principles of experiential education practice

Adopted from the outdoor experiential programs, the US Army War College's Strategic Experiential Education Group has put the theory into practice through the use of role play simulations.

The principles are:
  • Experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis.
  • Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results.
  • Throughout the experiential learningprocess, the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating,experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
  • Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully, and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.
  • The results of the learning are personaland form the basis for future experience and learning.
  • Relationships are developed and nurtured: learner to self, learner to others, and learner to the world at large.
  • The educator and learner may experience success, failure, adventure, risk-taking, and uncertainty, since the outcomes of experience cannot be totally predicted.
  • Opportunities are nurtured for learners and educators to explore and examine their own values.
  • The educator's primary roles include setting suitable experiences,posing problems, setting boundaries, supporting learners, insuring physical and emotional safety, and facilitating the learning process.
  • The educator recognizes and encourages spontaneous opportunities for learning.
  • Educators strive to be aware of their biases, judgments, and pre-conceptions and how they influence the learner
  • The design of the learning experience includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes.

  • This is very much the same principles behind role play simulation.

    Tagged as

    Sunday, 24 April 2005

    GreaseMonkey + Flickr = Lickr

    Lickr removes the need for Flash. It runs within the web browser Firefox, stripping the Flash before the user can even see it, and replacing it with an equivalent interface in pure HTML and Javascript.

    Why? The webstie said
    • you often use operating systems where Flash doesn't work, or doesn't work well.

    • speeding up pageviews noticeably is important to you.

    • you're a web developer and you are interested in this bleeding-edge Ajax stuff.

    • using Flickr beta isn't extreme enough for you. You want to run some amateur code, triggered by a brand new framework, in an alternative browser, that tries to modify an often-changing beta interface.

    In fact Lickr is the combination of three important concepts:
    Flickr - a community for the photo addicts
    Greasemonkey - a framework for intercepting the DOM of a website and modify accordingly
    Ajax - an intermediate between the webserver and the user.
    Instead of loading a webpage, at the start of the session, the browser loads an Ajax engine — written in JavaScript and usually tucked away in a hidden frame. This engine is responsible for both rendering the interface the user sees and communicating with the server on the user’s behalf. The Ajax engine allows the user’s interaction with the application to happen asynchronously — independent of communication with the server. So the user is never staring at a blank browser window and an hourglass icon, waiting around for the server to do something.

    Tagged as

    Friday, 22 April 2005

    "Conversation With My Evil Twin" blog

    Some people found my conversation format interesting. OK, if you like to converse with your evil twin in public, you are welcome to share this blog so that we have all the evil twins at one place. Just send me an email: [albert.ip.w.c _at_ gmail dot com] and I will add you as a contributor to the blog.

    Tagged as

    Is eLearning the $500 Toilet Seat of the Technology Industry?

    Guess what Brendan Tompkins was talking about - shoveling model of e-learning examplied by Microsoft eLearning site. With a 50" Sony Plasma WEGA High Definition TV, it is the same.

    The e in e-learning is NOT the electronic gadget that is being thrown in to help you motivated!

    Tagged as

    Thursday, 21 April 2005

    Blocking VoIP Calls: Foreboding Harbinger or Benign Fluke?

    See my twisted response in "Conversation With My Evil Twin" blog.

    Tagged as

    Wednesday, 20 April 2005

    How Software Patents Actually Work

    via Groklaw
    It's an animated film by Gavin Hilltrying to explain the dangers of software patents.

    Tagged as

    Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming: A Research Framework for Military Training and Education

    via OLDaily.

    Like Stephen, I am drawn to the topic of this study because my involvement of online role play simulation. I also share Stephen's view that I don't find this report exciting to read.

    Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming sounds good for training and education. First, it is massive multiplayer - implying a collaborative type of learning. Second, it is gaming which seems to solve the motivational factors in training and learning. Third, being a virtual environment, the instructional designer may create an environment conducive to learning.

    I would say that these are superficial benefits. We need to look closer and deeper to really understand the critical factors in each of these claims.

    Collaborative Learning is not the same as locking a group of learners in a room, throw them a question and magically, these learners will come up with a solution to the question. A massive multiplayer environment is akin to a room with a lot of people inside. Will learning happen automatically? OK, here is where the instructional designer can come in and create an environment conducive to learning. Learning what? How do we organise "massively" many learners to learn the same thing from ALL different prospective without making the environment as dull as drills of marching soldiers?

    As noted in a previous post Learning to Play to Learn - Lessons in Educational Game Design, the "gameness" of a game is more than "fancy graphics, well-written stories, or point-based rewards". One of the important factor I have identified was the genuine ability to make choice and face the consequence of the choice made. To see the effect of the choice you made, you need to see changes in the behaviour of the other players (as in the role). When you are in a "massive" multiplayer environment, such effect will have a big rippling effect on the whole system. This will make experimentation much more difficult than in a smaller role play simulation environment.

    Am I still interested in Massive Multiplayer Online Gaming as a teaching and learning environment? Yes, I am. But, I am yet to figure out how to use such an environment. Pleae enlighten me.

    Tuesday, 19 April 2005

    Knowing When to Log Off

    via Stephen Downes' OLDaily.

    Stephen correctly pointed out that switching off from the Internet is not a good strategy.

    Seasoned Internet veterans know that this just makes information overload worse, because the information doesn't stop piling up just because you've logged off. The key (in my mind) is to stop treating information like a thing, stop treating it as though it were a pile of required reading, but to sample and filter and redirect, to taste and digest and manipulate as needed.

    I envy Stephen's ability to filter through evidently huge amount of information daily to bring us the gems.

    As I read the article myself, I feel that some of the people out there seem to want to dig their heads in the sand and assume that the world will stop and wait for them. I agree that we need quality time to reflect and reason. I also feel that creativity and innovation are stimulated when I see new ideas (or new application of ideas). If I always read the same person, I can basically predict what I am reading. If I read messages or articles in new domains, I may find application for my own area of interest. Then stop, reflect, try, experiment, further research, talk to peers and make incremental innovations.

    Reflecting on my own past, my first significant "invention" is the local area network for Apple ][ computers using its game port. Several different "domains" of knowledge were pulled together. Earlier that year, I heard a presentation about the ISO layer network architecture. Being a Physics student and teacher, I had electronic and digital logic training. I played games on Apple ][ and had experience using the game port as an interface with school Physics experiments for my students (again, that was something I read about from the Scotland Physics projects). At that time, I was fascinated by the CPU designs, OS design, computer algorithms and so on. I also knew how to extend the Basic in Applesoft.

    All these seemingly diverse interest pulled together and with the help of four of my brilliant students, we managed to create a local area network connecting those Apple ][ I had at my school laboratory using our own cable and connectors, network software and server software.

    Yes, in the 80's, information overload was not as serious as today. Stephen's suggestion, together with a sense of knowing when to stop and encourage in serious thinking, will be a pre-requisite for survival in the new information era.

    Monday, 11 April 2005

    Fablusi New Website

    Fablusi has just launched a new redesign of its website to mark the availability of Fablusi Enterprise Version 2.

    It has taken me over 14 months to completely rewrite the software. There are a number significant differences between this new version and the previous version.

      Some of the Feature Improvements
    • Stages A new concept is introduced. From the initial role selection to the final debrief, a simulation author can define as many or as few stages as required. At the transition of stages, the author can control whether a role can advance to the next stage or not depending on whether there is any incomplete task. The right setting of the interaction space can also be overridden at debrief stage so that all the interactions previously unavailable to some roles will become available.

    • Component-based tasks In the previous version, publishing task has its semantic components pre-defined. In the new version, the author can define different semantic components to reflect the structure of the required task. Later, version 2.1, the assessment assistant will be able to pick up the defined components and apply rubrics according to the assessment rules.

    • Address book To model "knowing who" is important in some social situation, author can now assign address book to roles. When set, roles can only communicate with those in the address book. An associated function is "introduction" where a role can introduce two other roles to communicate.

    • Some of the Technical Improvements
    • Client-side Processing A lot of jobs are not handled on the client browser rather than transferring the data back to the server for processing. This improves the response of the interaction as well as makes the server scale much better.

    • CSS-based look and feel The delivery engine will only deliver the dynamic pages in generic format and an author defined CSS will transform the page into different look and feel depending on design.

    Please come and have a look and give me some comment. Tell me whether you like the new interface or otherwise.

    Sunday, 10 April 2005

    Teachers are in big trouble

    Stephen Downes' OLDaily pointed to a Plugfest 9 presentation by David Wiley in the powerpoint format. However, if you watch the presentation itself (via the video link), you may pick up the clue from David that the days of teachers as a profession is doomed.

    Wiley sets up a nice distinction between the "Centralized / Top-down Camp" (which favours intelligent tutoring systems, automated LO assembly systems, advanced visualization techniques and the like) and the "Decentralized / Bottom-up Camp" (which favours large scale self-organizing social systems, content creation, and more).

    In the first camp, teachers are deliberately engineered out of the equation because if the design requires a teacher to students ratio, then the solution will not scale.

    In the second camp, as David put it, the indigenous solutions in the online worlds do not have "teachers" as a profession.

    If these two camps are the two ends of the scale, where are the teachers?

    BTW, the summary provided by Stephen is the more accurate overview of David's presentation than mine here. I just point out one point here.

    Saturday, 9 April 2005

    Cool tools

    I reported about GreaseMonkey in my Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activities blog on Monday. I am continuing to discover the wonderful cool tools that are developed around GreaseMonkey.

    Persistent Searches to Gmail

    Persistent searches (a.k.a. smart folders or saved searches) seem to be the feature du jour of email clients. Thunderbird has them, Evolution has them, and soon will. On the other hand, Gmail is the web mail app to use. While one doesn't normally think of web apps as having such advanced power user features, it recently occurred to me that it should be possible to add persistent searches to Gmail

    Scholar Monitor
    lets you keep track of authors, research groups or topics [within Google Scholar]

    Shared whiteboard in JavaScript
    Draw and chat with your friends

    Good things will certainly keep coming. You will need to install GreaseMonkey and use Firefox to have all the goodies.

    Thursday, 7 April 2005

    Learning to Play to Learn - Lessons in Educational Game Design

    [free registration is required to view]

    As stated in the beginning of the article, "use of games in education" is a hot topic. The authors rightly pointed out that there is a huge gap between game designers and educators in the understanding of issues in "using games" in education.

    Educators are energized by games' ability to engage with students, to capture their wayward attention and help them learn in rich and dynamic ways. Game designers and developers are increasingly drawn to create educational games as well - perhaps from a desire to make new kinds of games, to create work with a purpose beyond pure entertainment, or even just as an escape from the rigid confines of the mainstream game industry. Each of these camps - developers and educators - has its own agenda for taking on projects, its own set of particular dissatisfactions with the current crop of educational games, and - all too often - a complete lack of experience with the concerns of those working on the other side.

    I will let you read the article yourself. However, I do want to emphasis one key point brought out by the authors. Embrace the "Gameness" of Games.

    The excitement of games doesn't magically emerge from fancy graphics, well-written stories, or point-based rewards. Good games integrate a number of complex elements (moments of decision-making, challenging goals, rewarding feedback, etc.) to create a fun play experience.

    Among all these elements, I believe the ability for the player to be genuinely creative to tackle the problem (presented by the game) is very important too. Like playing chess, you can make whatever move you like, but you also suffer the consequence of your choice. Stupid moves lead to losing the game! Many "educational games" provide limited choices, supported by the notion of scaffolding, is exactly the kind of thinking in educator's mind which kills the joy of game.

    In Fablusi role play simulation, we want to activate player's imagination. We want the players to own the persona they are playing as well as own the actions taken. As noted in our guide to the moderator, when we notice that the player may be in difficulties, we only provide them with suggestions (always more than one) and guide them to take their own action.

    From our many formative evaluations, we also notice how engaging Fablusi role play simulations have been to the students. We do not need to specify the minimum amount of interaction. Instead, we specify the maximum number of sim-mails that they can send per day. This engaging nature is the result of the "gameness" of the role play simulation. We don't have expensive graphics. Our story lines are simple (no story boards), just a few kick-start episodes and a scenario with a number of threads of potential of conflict and co-operation. We don't have explicit winner or loser. But each team playing a persona is asked to set up their own agenda and they judge their own winning or losing against their own achievement of the agenda.

    Designing a "game" is expensive! Designing a Fablusi role play simulation is cheap and fast. Roni can do one in about 1 day. You may take longer. To start, download the design worksheet from Fablusi and good luck!

    Tuesday, 5 April 2005

    Role play simulation papers

    For those interested in the academic work of role play simulation, I have added a few papers to the site.

    Creating Learning Opportunities Using an RPS Authoring Tool
    To play the role of someone else requires both reflection and self-reflection - "how do I do this?" and "how does it seem to me that someone else does it?" are the two immediate questions upon which playing a role is based. The interplay between "how I would act" (given my own beliefs, knowledge, values, orientations, modes of action etc.) and "how someone else would act" (given what I know about their beliefs, knowledge etc.) throws into relief the reflective process underlying a RPS - a collaborative process of engagement in reflexive reflection.
    The key to creating learning opportunities for the players in a RPS is to create a dynamic scenario that supports on-going and reflexive reflection congruent with the learning objectives the author aims to achieve. It is the transformation of the material to be learned into a communicative environment of problems and interactive information with which participants must actively engage. In the process they can make mistakes or indeed find useful strategies to resolve such problems or test the limits of existing strategies, beliefs, values etc., and their applicability in different contexts.

    Predictive Power of Role-play Simulations in Political Science: Experience of an e-Learning tool
    The paper argues that role-play simulations, viewed as collaborative thought experiments, enable analysts to examine scenarios that may not seem realistic at the time but which later prove otherwise. It provides examples that seem to predict future events and situations from 9 simulations run between 2000 and 2002, it raises questions about these results and attempts to provide a tentative explanation for them. The paper concludes by suggesting that only when relinquishing the quest for realism in the analysis of the political that one begins to catch a glimpse of political reality.

    Where is the Teacher? e-Learning Technology, Authority and Authorship in Teaching and Learning
    While most students (78%) who responded to the questionnaire either agreed or strongly agreed that the technology was instrumental in enabling them to be more interactive with peers as we expected, the majority (51%) either disagreed or strongly disagreed that it helped them relate to the teachers in their own time...

    Monday, 4 April 2005

    Learning & Emotion

    Larry Baum, in IdeaExplore wrote,

    I was disappointed by the tremendous amount of news time devoted to just one person, Terri Schiavo, in the past few weeks, compared to the little time devoted to millions of people in wars in Congo or Darfur, or suffering preventable deaths from malaria or TB. Just one measure of this imbalance: a Google search for "Terri Schiavo" gave 10.4 million hits, but a Google search for "malaria" gave only 6.4 million hits. This made me realize that many people can't feel empathy for numbers. They need a face and a story on which to hang their emotions, even if the result is a very illogical imbalance in priorities. Stalin knew it; he said "A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic."

    This is also true for learning.

    Hundreds of experience pass through us daily. Why some stick and become memorable and some get forgotten?

    By linking one's learning into some emotions, the learning stays. I suppose it is so for appeal. As Larry further suggested
    To redress this, it may be necessary to purposefully play on emotions by picking one person to represent all those suffering from some problem.

    To redress for teaching and learning
    it may be necessary to purposefully play on emotions by picking one dramatic situation to represent all those similiar problem situations.

    Friday, 1 April 2005

    Exellence in Instruction Award

    As an award to those of you who visit my blog - showing your exellence in recognising good blogging, you are hereby awarded the "Exellence in Instruction Award".

    Exellence in Instruction Award
    You may download the award and display this award, without modification, on the front page of your website provided that you agree to the following terms and condition.

    • You recognised yourself as a true Exellence in Instruction, following strict scientific instructional principles in all your instructions.

    • You accepted this award on 1st April 2005 and understand that it would expire in 43200s.

    Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards

    Do you think I will enter DLS or Fablusi for the "Brandon Hall Excellence in Learning Awards"? Yes, you are right. I won't.

    I got an email from Brandon Hall today inviting Digital Learning Systems to enter the awards.

    I felt a bit strange. Unless you really know all the relationships of the companies that I am involved, no one would have suggested DLS instead of some others, e.g. the most visible Fablusi among the lot. AND I did not get an invitation for submitting Fablusi.

    I followed the suggested link and ended on a page from Brandon Hall for entry. More strikingly, I also note that there is an entry fee of US$495.

    If this is a true recognition of excellence for something, I don't think there should be a fee for entry. It looks more like a scam to me! I suspect anyone paying that US$495 would get the hope of being the winner when it is announced in

    "Training Fall Conference and Expo Incorporating Online Learning in Long Beach, Calif. Winners will also be listed on our Web site.

    It sounds like an local advertisement for Lotto!

    OK, US$495 is a small advertisement fee for the business.

    I have set down, in the editorial policy of the new e-Learning Magazine, something along this line: "product brochure is product brochure. It is better to be handled by our advertisement department. Do not send to the editors. It will go to the rubbish bin immediately!"

    So you may understand why I write this post and make my decision not to enter for the award. However, Fablusi does deserve some recognition!