Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Here is a trivial

Here is a trivial about our human eye taken out from Introduction to resolution and MTF curves by Norman Koren. Don't ask me why I was reading this.

Focal length of our eye (nominal) is 16.5 mm with f-stop from f/8 (pupil size 2mm for bright light) to f/2.8 (pupil size 5.8mm for dim lighting)

Anyone can tell me what is the ISO equivalent of our retina?

SCO fetcher

Warwick Bailey of Icodeon Ltd from United Kingdom sent me an email today asking me to comment on one implementation issue of my SCO fetcher solution for overcoming the cross-domain issue when delivering content within a SCORM environment. [see my other papers on SCORM here.]

In particular, it is related to the linked javascript files. In Warwick's solution, after fetching the SCO, the LMS will parse the incoming HTML and add a BASE tag to the SCO. By doing this, all referenced images, CSS (as long as their paths were relatively) will be displayed correctly in the client. However, linked javascripts, originating from a different domain will NOT be able to interact with javascript from the LMS domain. This is a browser implemented SECURITY and should NOT be broken.

Here is a minor details - albeit a very important one in the SCO-fetcher solution.

The original model is based on using multiple content management systems at the same time. ALL assets are stored in some CMS and we allowed multiple CMS support for a single SCO. That is, a SCO will consist of its base HTML (say stored in CMS-1), plus other assets such as images, CSS, animations etc sources from other CMSes (say CMS-2, ... CMS-n). Hence, we implemented absolute referencing to the resources.

As SCO, it is necessary to have javascript (at a minimum, javascript is needed to establish the connection to the LMS). In the original implementatin, all javascripts were embedded within the SCO and hence post no cross-domain scripting violation.

In Warwick's situation, if the javascript is linked in, the BASE tag will point the javascript to its original domain and hence the browser will block any communication of the loaded javascript with the javascript from the LMS.

As far as I can remember, the SCORM specification does not specify how the SCO should implement the javascript (whether embedded or linked) and I understand it is much easier to use a linked solution.

A little intelligence can easily overcome the problem - but is NOT the best solution. In Warwick's case, since the LMS is parsing the incoming HTML anyway, it is just a matter of locating the javascripts, fetching them and sending the javascript from the LMS domain (or embedding the javascript into the SCO).

A better solution would be to extend the SCORM specification slightly, including the two scenarios (embedded and linked javascripts) to describe a unified way of handling the situation. As an extra, this work will also open up the opportunity of defining a mechanism for overcoming the Mosaic Effect of Multi-use SCOs. [I am aware of other works in customising the look and feel of SCO, but I still believe my solution is a better fit to the development workflow of current SCORM content development efforts.]

I am in the private sector and have a family to feed. That means I cannot put public good before my responsibility of provding for my family. :-) I am happy to put in the effort to do this work if someone can sponsor my time and any associated costs.

cross-posted to Corporate E-Learning

eLearning Industry Association of Victoria Inc

The first General Meeting of eLearning Industry Association of Victoria Inc will be held on 1st September. We now have the nominations for the first committee:

President: Marc Niemes
Vice President: Roe Maas
Secretary: Steve Grocott
Treasurer: Peter Adams
Committee Members: David Knowles and Graham Whelan

Will post the result after the meeting.

Sunday, 27 August 2006

DIY: pointing device which works in mid-air

by Patrick Baudisch

Here is a demo and instruction to make a pointing device based on hardware found in a mouse, yet works in mid-air. [It] consists of an optical sensor device moving freely inside a hull made of fabric. BTW, it is called SOAP:

Friday, 25 August 2006

Windows "Genuine" Advantage?

I wrote about this in May. I declined to allow Microsoft's Windows Genuine Advantage Validation Tool to be installed on my laptop although I am 100% sure I am running a legal copy of Window XP - it comes with the computer and has stickers on the back of the laptop! Most important of all, I paid for it!

Now that "C|net Community Help & How-to" is running a post about this.

[Art]'s trying to help fix some people's computers, as they are being blocked by Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) from receiving any Windows updates--even though they have a valid version of Windows at hand.

Reading the EUA of beta version again, I noticed that
· If the software detects you are not running a genuine copy of Windows XP, the operation of your computer will not be affected in any way. However, you will receive a notification and periodic reminders to install a genuine licensed copy of Windows XP. Automatic Updates will be limited to receiving only critical security updates.
· You will not be able to uninstall the software but you can suppress the reminders through the software icon in the system tray. [my emphasis]

And if there is any problem, the maximum damage you can claim is US$5 even if Microsoft knew or should have known about the possibility of the damages. What is the worth of damage to your work horse? US$5 is far from meeting the damage!

The first community answer posted to "C|net Community Help & How-to" was from Pete Z. of Los Angeles, California. It is suggested that the customer contact the manufacturer and if the guy went out of business or is doing hard time for piracy or some such - you could contact Microsoft directly and plead the case. If the only answer you get from them would be the purchase of another license, then your best bet would be to do so. Fortunately you don't have to pay full retail for a new copy.

I know a better answer than this. Go open source and install a Linux laptop!

Thursday, 24 August 2006

Too Many Clicks Unit-Based Interfaces Considered Harmful

By Philip Goetz

This article frm Gamasutra looks at the number of clicks, mouse movement etc in Civilization. While it is about user interface design, there are some lessons we can learn in terms of designing educational games. First, here are some extracts from the article:

Approaching a Thousand Clicks a Turn

Even for a Civ addict like me, the game isn’t much fun after about 1800. Too many clicks. I counted the clicks, mouse movements, and keystrokes that it took me to get through one move of Civilization III in the year 1848. Many hours later, when that turn was done, I’d counted 422 mouse clicks, 352 mouse movements, 290 key presses, 23 wheel scrolls, and 18 screen pans to scroll the screen. This was making full use of all the Civ shortcuts, automation, and group movements. I probably would have made twice as many movements if I hadn’t been counting.

The Rule of Seven
The rule of thumb in the US military today is that span of control should be from 5 to 7. A supervisor in FEMA is supposed to oversee no more than seven subordinates during a disaster-relief effort.

Hence, one of the problem identified by Goetz is the "unit control" available in Civilization. A player needs to set/control every aspect of the game play for each turn - explaining why there is a thousand clicks in a turn.

You Can’t Have Your Cake and Eat It Too
A game designer might think she can have the best of both worlds by making a game in which the player can control every unit, but doesn’t have to. This, unfortunately, is not so. There’s a rule in economics called Gresham’s Law of Money: Bad money drives out good money. ... In gaming, bad players drive out good players. In roleplaying games, the bad roleplayers, who emphasize accumulating wealth and power over playing a role well, advance faster and eventually drive out the good roleplayers. In a game which allows control of individual units, adrenaline-filled 14-year-olds who can make three clicks a second will beat more thoughtful players who rely on the computer to implement their plans, because we’re still a long way from the day when a computer can control units better than a player.

Here is the first lesson I have learnt. If we are to design educational games, we must understand what we are trying to achieve and avoid options which attract different game plays resulting not achieving learning objectives.

Off-Line Vs. On-Line Control
Part of the reason that a commander can get by with commanding only seven subordinates is prior preparation. He has drawn up scenarios in advance of any action, and can cause a quick and dramatic change in his battalion’s actions by ordering a switch from one scenario to another. His service branch has a standard library of tactics, from the squad level on up, which he can use during an action to explain his intent to his subordinates. His subordinates have rules of engagement to help them decide how to respond to a wide variety of enemy and non-combatant actions without his intervention. He can add to these rules prior to entering combat. He has many field exercises, and after each one, he tells his subordinates what they did right and wrong, and his superior tells him what he did right and wrong. This reduces the amount of direct supervision needed in combat.

Here is a second lesson I have learnt. If game playing needs offline mode to prepare alternate strategy, a good education game should be asynchronous to allow learners time and opportunities both to learn (research, reflect, discuss,...) the strategies and to implement the newly acquired strategy.

The rest of the article goes into some technical details of designing UI. Please read at your leisure.

Wednesday, 23 August 2006


Issue 59 of escapist is about the use of games in education.

I won't have time to read through the articles. However, I hate to delay your reading. So go ahead, it should be good reading and let me know your opinions.

Here are the highlight from the email notice:

Shawn Williams's "Learning The Gaming Way": describes how he and his wife learned to live with her multiple sclerosis, helped, in large part, by a video game in "Learning The Gaming Way."

Chris Dahlen's "Playing to the Test": explores the nature of educational games, and how they may be just what the educational system needs.

Tim Stevens's "Even Better Than the Real Thing": how playing racing sims translate to real racing victory.

Shannon Drake's "Piano Wizards": talks to the man responsible for the game that just may make learning music fun in "Piano Wizards."

Dan Dormer's "Anne Died Of Dysentery": takes on one the very first educational games, *Oregon Trail*

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

eLearning Industry Association of Victoria

The first official meeting of the new eLearning Industry Association of Victoria will be held on 1 September, 2006, at 2:00 PM. in the Theatrette, Level 29, 80 Collins Street, Melbourne. The inaugural management committee will be elected at this meeting.

For further information about the meeting please contact the Working Group Convenor David Knowles. Just not to publish David's email here to avoid spam, leave a comment here and I'll foward your request to David.

A simple question to start the year1

by Doug Johnson at Blue Skunk Blog

He is responding to an email to him:

I was wondering if you agree or disagree with this quote, and why: "the more powerful technology becomes, the more indispensable good teachers are."

Doug pointed out the underlying vision of policymakers is to "teacher-proof" education by technology and the quote is the opposite of that vision. Who's wrong here, I wonder?

Another point being noted is what do we mean by "powerful technology", technology to handle our daily life, or information and communication technology or instructional technology? We have rapidly developing nanotechnologies, medical technologies, ICT and so on, but we don't have any instructional technology which does not depend on human teacher yet! [For those in instructional technology field, if you think your work in sequencing and copywriting material is instructional technology, I am sorry to say that you are wrong and you do not deserve to be called an instructional technologist!]

Information and communication technologies help us to find, locate and retreive almost any information from anywhere in a fraction of time it used to be. The role of teacher being an authorative source of information has long gone. The role of teacher is to help learners to bring that information "across the boundary"2 and integrate that information into a holistic world view. As Doug puts it, the teacher's role becomes process expert rather than content expert.

A comment of Dough's post raised another interesting viewpoint:
Perhaps the more powerful teaching becomes, the more indispensible good technology is.

1 When I read the title, I was a bit confused and double checked the date. How come it is the start of the year when it is middle of August. Aha, it is the start of school year in the Northern hemisphere! [I am too world-centric and have forgotten that 8-15-2006 is not the eighth day of the fifteenth month in year 2006.] :-)
2 See my views on this: part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6 and part 7.

Monday, 21 August 2006

2 hrs of Mandated training

Jay Cross is passing around a letter:

We understand that the Fair Employment & Housing Commission is drafting regulations for Assembly Bill 1825 dealing with sexual harassment and requiring “employers with 50 or more employees to provide 2 hours of training and education to all supervisory employees….”
The specification of two hours appears to be drawn directly from a Connecticut statute, Sexual Harassment and Training Requirements, which became law fifteen years ago, long before the advent and widespread adoption of networked learning (“eLearning”). Times have changed.

He correctly pointed out that "The classroom hour is an increasingly poor measure of learning.", however he recommends the Fair Employment & Housing Commission to interpret the two hours in AB 1825 to mean the possession of knowledge at least equivalent to what would have been acquired by the average learner by attending a two-hour instructorled course and to measure that by proficiency test rather than two hours time on task.

I believe that once a mandated training hour is imposed (even explicitly stating that it should be interprreted as minimum training required) will become the defacto and becomes the maximum amount of training. Stating requirement in time, instead of learning outcomes, given all business are engaged in cost reduction, will result in 2-hour of online training.

Sexual harrassment requires changing of attitude and belief. I don't believe it can be done in 2 hours anyway.

cross posted to Corporate E-Learning

Story telling versus story writing

By Shawn

The focus of this post is on the differences involved in creating the story. Does the way we create a story affect its nature? Or put another way, How does story telling differ from story writing when creating a story?

I'll let you read the post first.


OK, you have come back. Did you read the post? No? Go on read it first. I'll wait for you here.


I picked up this quote “We always know more than we can tell and we will always tell more than we can write down.” and am mindful of Shawn's remark: More and more narrative practitioners will rely on story writing to capture stories because it’s a cheaper and scalable approach. But in using this approach we must be mindful of what we are losing in the process and be aware of how the stories might change when they are written down. More importantly, will some types of stories never be written at all?

My focus on this post is to look at the synchronocity: telling as Shawn pointed out is spontaneous where as writing is deliberate, measured and have opportunities for several revisions. Obviously, as pointed by Shawn, these processes activate different cognitive features. As we move onto online learning, whether it is using blog, asynchronous conference or other means, we are mostly using "writing" as the main instrument of narration. I suggest this would activate deeper analytical veiw on the subject matter. However, we may also lose some of the richer interaction that may be required by the subject matter.

This is a point worth giving a more thoughts.

Wednesday, 16 August 2006

A Tectonic Shift in Global Higher Education

by John Daniel (president and CEO of the Commonwealth of Learning, an agency created by Commonwealth heads of government to help developing countries expand access to learning through the use of technology.)

For two decades, worldwide enrollment growth in higher education has exceeded the most optimistic forecasts. A milestone of 100 million enrollments was passed some years ago, and an earlier forecast of 120 million students by 2020 may be reached by 2010. If anything, enrollment growth is accelerating as more governments see the rapid expansion of higher education as a key element in their transition from developing to developed countries.

In this article, John Daniel continues to explain how the rapid growth of higher education participation in developing countries may be achieved. He cites comparisons between pairs of countries such as South Korea and Ghana or Malaysia and Zambia. "There are, of course, numerous reasons why South Korea and Malaysia have developed more than Ghana and Zambia. However, part of the explanation is also that the Asian pair promoted the rapid development of higher education sectors with strong private-sector participation, while the African countries relied only on the state sector and kept tuition free."

Cross-border higher education may be supplied by a wide range of providers such as conventional or open universities, multinational companies, corporate universities, networks of universities, professional organizations, and IT companies. It is interesting to note that Nearly all cross-border higher education is effectively for-profit in the receiving country. Even when the originating institution is a public institution in its home country, it must make "excess revenue"—or profit—on its operations in other countries in order to sustain those operations. Does this spell a problem or an opportunity for these institutes? (think Australian Universities depending on foreign students to supplement their income.)

Here are two interesting observations by John Daniel (in the conclusion):

Cross-border higher education will require providers to develop a competitive edge. Costs will be critical. Only by targeting the massive numbers of people at bottom of the pyramid, not just the elites, will economies of scale be achieved.

In previous eras, the use of technology in developing countries usually resulted in a transfer of wealth to the developed world: The rich got richer and the poor got poorer. Those days could soon be over. Because of their lower costs, developing countries may gradually reverse the direction of cross-border relationships so that their providers serve students in richer countries.

Monday, 14 August 2006

If hind sight is 20/20, what does this tell us?

Financial Times has an article on A closed mind about an open world. The author, James Boyle, asks us to test ourselves "on the following questions. In each case, it is 1991 and I have removed from you all knowledge of the past 15 years."

You have to design a global computer network. One group of scientists describes a system that is fundamentally open – open protocols and systems so anyone could connect to it and offer information or products to the world. Another group – scholars, businessmen, bureaucrats – points out the problems. Anyone could connect to it. They could do anything. There would be porn, piracy, viruses and spam. Terrorists could put up videos glorifying themselves. ... Which would you have picked?

Imagine a form of software that anyone could copy and change, created under a licence that required subsequent programmers to offer their software under the same terms. Imagine legions of programmers worldwide contributing their creations back into a “commons”. Is this anarchic-sounding method of production economically viable? Could it successfully compete with the hierarchically organised companies producing proprietary, closed code, controlled by both law and technology?

Set yourself the task of producing the greatest reference work the world has ever seen. ... Would you create a massive organisation of paid experts with layers of editors producing tomes that are controlled by copyright and trademark? Or would you wait for hobbyists, scientists and volunteer encyclopedists to produce, and search engines to organise, a cornucopia of information?

We know James is talking about the World Wide Web, the Linux OS and Wikipedia. 15 years ago, would you pick these as winners?

Blackboard's patent story and discussions have been hot recently. Let time travel 15 years forward and with look back, who will you pick as the winner (assuming LMS still makes sense): Blackboard or Moodle?

When will we ever learn?

Level of ___ knowledge

Levels of HTML knowledge by Roger Johansson
I am at level 5: These people tend to think about structure and semantics first and presentation later.

Levels of CSS knowledge by Emil Stenström
I am at level 5: “I use CSS for design, it’s better than tables because of…”

Levels of JavaScript Knowledge by Dean Edwards
I am again at level 5.

What are your levels?


I thought I have written about this cool tool long time ago. However, when I tried to search for it, I could not find it. So, not searchable means "I have not written about it yet". Here we go.

JSLint, a tool written by Douglas Crockford, has saved a lot of my time as I develop the client-side functions of Fablusi. It checks for common Javascript coding errors and warns a number of "tolerated" practices.

Dean Edwards points out that JSLint is not a silver bullet in JSLint Considered Harmful which I will respectfully disagree.

I don't like the mandatory braces on if statements. I've become rather fond of one-liners like this:
function foo( x ) {
if( ! x ) return;
// now process x

This one-liner will create error when you want to compact the javascript by removing the white spaces!

JSLint's prohibition against repeated "var" declarations can lead to fragile code:
function foo() {
for( var i = 0; i < a.length; i++ ) {
// and later in the function:
for( i = 0; i < b.length; i++ ) {

If you later refactor that code, it would be easy to forget to put the "var" back in.

I would rewrite the code like this:
function foo() {
var i=0;
for( i = 0; i < a.length; i++ ) {
// and later in the function:
for( i = 0; i < b.length; i++ ) {

This will not generate a warning by JSLint and it is a good practice! Re: refactoring - we should put the var in anyway! JSLint will warn you if you have forgotten!

As pointed out by Dominic Mitchell is his post JSLint Backlash, ‘Considered Harmful’ Essays Considered Harmful.


According to the website:

Share what you make and how others can make it.

by using photos and short descriptions.

This is a great place to start if you want to try some DIY projects. The projects listed in the site varies a lot - so anyone should find something interesting to try.

The subtitle of the site is "step-by-step collaboration". Technically, it is not collaboration. It is sharing.

cross posted to Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activities

Friday, 11 August 2006

The Digital Learning Challenge: Obstacles to Educational Uses of Copyrighted Material in the Digital Age


This 117-page document

reports on a year-long study [snip] examining the relationship between copyright law and education. In particular, we wanted to explore whether innovative educational uses of digital technology were hampered by the restrictions of copyright. We found that provisions of copyright law concerning the educational use of copyrighted material, as well as the business and institutional structures shaped by that law, are among the most important obstacles to realizing the potential of digital technology in education.

Four case studies are included.

In the first, it is identified that when teachers are sharing resources, there may be a problem.
The act of distribution likely falls outside the scope of the educational use and fair use exceptions to liability. Thus, teachers who would be permitted to produce and use their own “do-it-yourself” digital teaching aids are not allowed to loan them to colleagues to use in their classrooms.
The result: a wealth of valuable, creative educational materials that could be used legally by the teachers who originally designed them will not benefit additional children in other schools.

In the second case study, in a film studies course,
The ability of teachers and students to view and critique excerpts of film – essentially, movie clips – is a fundamental building block of serious study in this area. One of the most common means for professors to teach students about film is to show a series of excerpts from different movies that illustrate a common point.
Digital technology should also enhance the ability for students to have access to clips for homework or other study outside of class, either online or through distributed DVDs. In fact, our research and interviews with film studies professors demonstrates that, for a combination of technological and legal reasons, the opposite has occurred. The DRM systems used on DVDs, and the restrictions of the DMCA, interfere with these educational uses of film content.

The third case study looks at the use of music in education.
A musical recording is protected by two separate copyrights, one for the underlying musical composition and another for the recording as a fixation of a specific performance of the music.

The clearance of these copyrights are a nightmare!

The last case study is about Public Broadcasting Service which relies on a set of special statutory provisions to allow PBS to create and boardcast education programs.
The public uses educational media quite differently today than it did when the 1976 Copyright Act was adopted. Despite the difficulties presented by the disconnect between the statute and technological realities, WGBH continues to move ahead delivering publicly beneficial programming, and using copyrighted content to do so. As in other case studies, however, copyright law and institutional practices surrounding it impede this educational mission rather than advancing it. WGBH believes that ultimately it is the public that suffers from the limitations public broadcasting producers face when using, or not using, copyrighted content in the digital learning resources.

Copyright and digital right management, strengthened by DCMA, are dragging the legs of advancement of the society.

Online Collaborative Tools

Here is a list of selected collaborative tools currently available to anyone free from the webs:

Document writing
Zoho writer

Numbler [via MasterMind Explorer Issue 162]
Google Spreadsheet
Num Sum
and many more from a google search.

Drawing Tools
Google SketchUp A 3D modeling tool
ajaxSketch and Gliffyare web-based drawing tools that provide an environment for diagramming, creating flow charts.
Mikon vector-based drawing and sharing enabled.

Notes sharing
Google Notebook

Please send me more links to make this more comprehensive.

cross posted to Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activities

Thursday, 10 August 2006

"Deliver Instruction"

Chris Lehmann asks

Can someone differentiate when you would say "Deliver Instruction" over the simpler (and to me, more meaningful) term "Teach?"

Mignon McLaughlin says
It means that a teacher can deliver pizza along with instruction. It means that we can objectify teachers' delivery of knowledge--external from themselves--and grade her on her performance. It means that, like a baseball pitcher, we can clock the speed of delivery and that each teacher has her own way of getting the ball over the plate.

I say
Step 1: Unscrew the top of student's head.
Step 2: Deliver instruction into the brain.
Step 3: Replace the top of student's head.
Step 4: Send client a bill for the service.
Step 5: Call the next student in. Repeat step 1 to 4 above.

cross posted to Learning for 2020

Time machine (The Time Fountain)

OK, I call this time machine, but the original inventor calls it The Time Foutain. So I better stick with the original name.

First watch this video.

If you really like this and ready for a real challenge, here is the instruction of building one for yourself.

ps I don't know why I keep finding all these cool things to share with you. :-)

Wednesday, 9 August 2006

Controlling application using "Minority Report" guesture

This is way too cool to pass.

Watch this video first.

Using two home-made LED globes (instruction here), you can control Google Earth using the open source software from atlasgloves.org. How it works is explained in the website:

The user stands in front of a large scale projection of the earth with a special set of illuminating gloves on their hands. By gently squeezing each glove, an LED turns on, which is translated by the computer into navigational commands. The user is then free to fly above the world, zooming in and out, tilting, rotating at their leisure.

See another demo here.

What does a scientist do when he has free time?

Kids, fancy being a scientist? Here is a glimpse of the cool thing a scientist did at his free time. The scientist I am refering to here is Dylan Stiles.

What did he do, you ask? OK, read this report what came out of my ear. If you don't understand the terms, don't worry. Neither do I. But it was a fun read.


Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Idea for a Physics Lesson - monopolar motor

Here is a website which shows you how to make a motor.

This youtube video is the coolest so far. [via Boingboing]

The instruction is here.

Monday, 7 August 2006

Fire on the mountain: Envisioning the future of school

Christopher D. Sessums started this post by a quote:

As long as learning is connected with earning, as long as certain jobs can only be reached through exams, so long must we take this examination system seriously. If another ladder to employment was contrived, much so-called education would disappear, and no one would be a penny the stupider. -- E. M. Forster

and finished by asking
So what does the future of schools mean to you?

What will they look like?

What will be their focus?

Who will take the lead?

What will the reform agenda look like?

If you don’t want to think about these things and begin to take action, who will? [my emphasis]

In between these two quotes, you read an honest educator articulating an ideal education environment where learners get constructive feedback, develop tolerance, good temper, empathy, compassion and try to achieve whatever one can achieve.

I hope this does not take 30 years. With will and devotion, everyone can start doing something. If everyone does that, suddenly, we don't need the "fire on the mountain" to create the change.

Educators, read this and start making a change, one step at a time NOW. I urge you to start NOW. We don't need to wait and we cannot afford to wait. NOW!

Saturday, 5 August 2006

BlackBoard Patent

Here is a plain English version of BB's 44 claims by Michael Feldstein. It seems to me that ALL LMS will be infringing BB's patent.

As Michael Feldstein put it

What we need to do is find either existing LMS’s that were publicly known or articles that were published describing systems (real or hypothetical) with most or (preferably) all of the features in 1999. That would be a strong case for prior art. Showing that each of the features listed in the claims existed separately in products isn’t sufficient; we need to show that that a system with these features was either already in existence or close enough to be obvious at the time.

I knew that WebMentor, first created in 1997 has all but one of the features (chat-room) and I may be wrong. I'll be contacting Avilar to see if they can show prior art.

Stephen Downes has very an extensive report on this.

One Encyclopedia Per Child

Dr. Ian Kennedy, a Senior Research Officer at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, proposed to create an extract of Wikipedia articles to put on the "One Laptop Per Child" project. The title of this post links to an article at Ian's site. Now, it is official that the One Laptop Per Child Project is including Wikipedia as one of the first elements in their content repository [reported by Andy Carvin via Boingboing].

Friday, 4 August 2006

Learning Objects - not again!

Stephen Downes' OLDaily has two items on learning objects today. The first one is Demonstration of Learning Object Templates and the other is LOLA Exchange--Learning Objects and Learning Activities. To avoid disappointment, I usually do NOT read any posts on learning objects. Since these two were included in Stephen's OLDaily, I opened them up. Stephen, you disappointed me this time!

As Stephen pointed out, the links in "Demonstration of Learning Object Templates" are linked to pdf files! There is a good section on Collaborative learning:

(1) Solo activity where there are individual objects, individual scripts of processes, and little or no communication between subjects;

(2) Co-ordinated activity with individual objects, but shared scripts of working processes, and little or no communication between the subjects;

(3) Co-operative activity with one shared object and script of process and some communication;

(4) Collaborative activity with shared objects, various shared alternative scripts of processes and lots of communication;

(5) Co-constructive activity with shared objects, but also the scripts of processes are objects to work on with lots of communication. [my emphasis, the original emphasis removed.]

I've now learnt that we are now subjects and hence can be contrasted against objects. :-)

With this, I was hoping to see how the templates can help teachers to create activity other than the first type. Careful readers, if you will not be bored by the same thing, please point me to where templates covering (2) to (5) can be found.

As for the second link from Stephen, I saw in the title the mention about learning activity. That's something new. As I read the "about" section of the page, here is what I found:
LOLA serves multiple purposes. At its home at Wesleyan, it serves as a way for us to keep track of the Learning Objects that we are developing as part of our Learning Objects project. We will be able to use LOLA to present our Learning Objects rather than having to make a container for each object by hand. It will also allow us to discover materials developed by other faculty that we might otherwise not know about. Within the context of the group of schools participating in this project, it will make visible materials that we otherwise would not know are available at our institutions.

As importantly, it will allow us to discover opportunities for collaboration within the academic disciplines on our campuses that have begun to develop and use Learning Objects in our curriculum. LOLA is also the home to a collection of Information Literacy Learning Objects that we are developing as part of a collaborative Information Literacy Project that Wesleyan, Trinity, and Connecticut College are working on. To facilitate this aspect of the project, LOLA allows for the creation of customized metadata schemes that allow the basic metadata schema to be extended to meet local needs.

I can't even find the word "activity". Ah, LoLa is a good acronym!

Learning is about using the learning objects. Learning is the process! Learning is something that happens between our ears, inside us. Information, material, learning objects are just stimulus - which we hope can trigger some changes.

I pronounce the death of Learning Object today!

Analyze This: Will 'Casual' Games Dominate the Future of the Industry?

In this feature of Gamasutra, the editor asked a question and seeked the answers from three game industry analysts. While it is from a game industry perspective, it indirectly confirms some of the observations I made in Why Most Off the Shelf Commerical Games Will Not Work in Education? And What Is The Alternative?

1. The current breed of high production, high immersive games appeal to the "young male" and not necessarily to a boarder community. Hence using commercial game as a vehicle to get the attention of the next generation can only capture "that much" of the target. Simpler, "casual" games have their value in game industry and by extension, educators should not overlook the potential of "simple games" such as those by Thiagi.

2. As the game industry diversifies to create more "casual" games, I hope some of the lessons learnt by the game developers may be transferable to educational games - again, I refute the notation that we can use commercial games directly in education settings. I am suggesting that we can learnt from them and adopt/adapt the techniques for our purposes.

3. Serious games are still very expensive to produce. Games with less than 1 million dollars are considered "casual" games. Education project with a budget of 1 million dollars (in almost any currency) will be BIG project. Education just cannot afford to spend money to develop serious games for educational use. As I explained in my essay, direct adoption of commercial games is not satisfactory too. We need to tackle the problem with more imagination and creativity!

4. David Cole (the third analysts responded to the question) pointed out one of the factor of the success of PSONE and PS2 is the diversity of the game titles available on these platform. Educators should also take the lesson that there is no one game suit all situation.

Updating role play simulation paper website

I am updating the website Role play simulation for teaching and learning. I have already made quite a number of changes, more will be coming.

If you have any article on role play simulation or game based learning, you are welcome to send me the information to be included.

Send to albert dot ip dot w dot c at gmail dot com.

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Why Most Off the Shelf Commerical Games Will Not Work in Education? And What Is The Alternative?

[Draft 2 of an earlier essay. Do not cite before contacting me for update. Comments welcome.]


There is a lot of hype on using commercial games in education lately1. James Paul Gee2 shows us that everyone can learn something from games. Clark Aldrich3 talked about how to select, research, build, sell, deploy, and measure the right type of educational simulation for the right situation. John C. Beck, Mitchell Wade4 argues that gamers glean valuable knowledge from their pastime and that they’re poised to use that knowledge to transform the workplace. The premise is that commercial games are interesting because they are immersive and offer the possibility of a higher fidelity learning environment. Commercial games are engaging and hence by using commercial games, educators can both adapt to the learners and engage them. Commercial game is the modern Torjan Horse for conquering the minds of our next generation – so many of us hope!

Unfortunately, this is not an informed and balanced expectation. There are millions of failed commercial games. So not all commercial games are engaging. Different genres of games attract different gamers. So even successful commercial games are not universally engaging. Commercial game designers single-mindedly create engaging games. When we try to add additional requirements, such as delivering learning outcomes, the result is disastrous. Game designers acknowledge the problem as evidenced by all the conferences about “serious games” lately5.

Successful commercial games cost millions to develop. Education does not have that money. Even if education does have that money, one would question the wisdom of investing such good sum of money in commercial game design without the evidence of effectiveness.

A commercial game may cover a topic in a subject domain. Education covers hundreds of topics in thousands of domains. Again, in order to cover most topics in most subject domains, we need thousands or millions of games. Learners do not have the time to play all these games. Education will not be able to afford the cost of building such games.

Angela McFarlane, Anne Sparrowhawk & Ysanne Heald6 pointed out also that many of the skills valuable for successful game play, and recognised by both teachers and parents, are only implicitly valued within a school context. Teachers and parents both valued the conversation, discussion, and varied thinking skills demanded by some of the games employed. However, these alone could not justify the use of the games within a crowded school curriculum.

However, game developers and gamers do tell us one very important message. Games can engage some learners and can be a vehicle to provide learning. Quoting Angela McFarlane, Anne Sparrowhawk & Ysanne Heald again, Games provide a forum in which learning arises as a result of tasks stimulated by the content of the games, knowledge is developed through the content of the game, and skills are developed as a result of playing the game. The argument here is that commercial games, off the shelf, are unsuitable for use. But we can find valuable lessons and design concepts from games to better do our job.

Using Commerical Games For Education Purposes

SimCity7 is one of the most successful commercial games and has been used quite extensively by educators. Player assumes the role of the chief architect and mayor of a city. Player is responsible for building and managing the city. As the player builds the city, in-game SIMS (simulated citizens) would come to the city, engage in different activities and generate a tax base for the player to continue developing the city. In the paper Playing With Urban Life: How SimCity Influences Planning Culture8 Daniel G. Lobo explained that the work of Forrester, Alexander, and Rybczynski have served as SimCity’s foundational ingredients. It seems to be an endorsement of the use of SimCity for urban planning courses where Forrester, Alexander, and Rybczynski’s models are examined. However, Lobo pointed out that the SimCity’s game goal is to build a megacity and the player is given absolute power of being the “god” in the simulator. “Unwieldy growth and megalomaniacal, destructive behavior are the two poles of city operation and the player’s most likely courses of action.” This is not the kind of message we want to give to our learners. As a commercial game and limited by the demand of engagement, the game goal cannot be modified. These undermine the usefulness of the game in serious educational settings.

X-plane9 is a very interesting flight simulator. Firstly, it is developed and marketed by a one-man company called Laminar Research based in the owner’s home. Secondly, people have been asking how he can compete in the flight-sim business, make money and survive since 1994. The answer lies in the way x-plane has engaged a wide community which supported the development. Thirdly, this simulator allows users to create planes - different type of planes including Space Shuttle10 and simulated flight in the atmosphere of Mars11 to amazing accuracy of the Physics involved. Fourthly and most incredibly, x-plane received FAA approval to train pilots towards their commercial certificate12!

Amazing as it may sound, I downloaded a demo copy and tried to “play” with x-plane to fulfill one of my childhood dreams of becoming a pilot. After installing the software, I looked at my monitor and my brain went blank. I knew I wanted to fly, but to where and why that particular city. Suddenly, I did not know what I wanted to do with the simulator! I lacked a “game goal”. May be I should have a friend with me and compete to land the plane in bad weather or do some flying upside down tricks.

These two stories tell us two things.

First, educational use of game will require the game’s underlying black box to be opened. SimCity’s failure of being a good educational game is because of its underlying black box does not allow educator to either modify the underlying models or to adjust the game goal to match the curriculum.

Second, an amazing game like x-plane is not engaging to me (even I have a childhood dream of being a pilot) because I have not formulated a game goal. X-plane does not have an implicit game goal, making it more like a simulator than a game. X-plane is successful enough to be endorsed for FAA certification because of the accurate underlying Physics-engine modeling of the aerodynamics of the air-foils. It is basically a simulator. Learners can create their own game goal. The other power of X-plane is that people can create different planes for x-plane. Hence if you in the process of obtaining a commercial pilot license for a particular plane, you can either get that plane from someone or create your own. SimCity’s failure as a simulator is exactly because there is an implicit game goal in the game – and the game goal does not necessarily match (in some cases, actually contradicts) the learning objective!

The second half of my last statement is actually very interesting. We can put on an education outfit to a suitable game.

Simple Games

Sivasailam Thiagarajan13, I called him Thiagi as most people who know him would, started his consulting business in 1976 from his basement. Now, 30 years later, he continues to operate the same business in pursuit of the same mission. During these years, he has designed hundreds of training games and activities. His games do not have complex graphics, no animations, simple, usually run for a few minutes. However his games are engaging, inspirational and sometimes very funny.

Here is a link to an email game called DEPOLARIZER: http://thiagi.com/email-depolarizer.html. It is a bit too long to copy here. Please review the game before reading on.

In this Thiagi’s email game, there are 5 rounds. Participants are asked to give their positions on a 9-point scale on an issue. They are then asked to predict the average of the group, then role play to provide statements at the extreme positions. The final step is to predict the average of group after revising their personal positions based on reading of the extreme position statements.

This game is applicable to almost any subject/issue. It is collaborative, can be played without much interference to the normal work schedule of the participants.

I played another Thiagi’s email game (called half-life) for a group of online role play simulation users in higher education institutes about 3 years ago. During the 2 weeks of playing the game, I did not lose even one participant throughout the 4 rounds of email exchanges. During the face to face debriefing, there was a heated debate of the outcome of the game too.

Thiagi’s game is a shell (he calls it a frame) whereby we can adapt to different subject matters. It is engaging not because it has high production value. Like chess, it is engaging because of nature of the game is engaging. It is engaging because these games give the player a real sense of freedom to do whatever they like and bear the consequence of the player’s action. It is engaging because there is a meaningful game goal. It is engaging because it is challenging.

There are deadly dull boring content which one must master in a subject matter, such as the names of bones for a medical study, the chemical symbols of the elements in Science etc. We can sweeten the learning process using a competitive game, like “Who wants to be a Millionaire” or “Trivial Pursuit”. We make use of the competitive nature of the players. We can make use of the pacing (as in shorter time for each higher level) to ensure mastery and fast recall of facts. (Hint: how many times we keep playing the same console game just in order to get a higher score?)

Here, we can put on a game outfit to an education activity.

The Role Of Game Design

I started this essay by proclaiming that commercial, off the shelf, games will not work in education. I also admit there are critical elements of game designs which are useful and informative in our endeavour to create engaging learning. Next, I will explain what I have learnt in the last 5 years as Fablusi14 creator. Fablusi is an online role play simulation platform on which educators can create and deliver their own role play simulations. I am in a privileged position to be able to see many engaging role play simulations being prepared and delivered to hundreds of learners in a broad range of subject areas.

Game Goals And Learning Objectives

Here, I want to make explicit the distinction between game goals and learning objectives. Game goal is the position a player wants to achieve at the end of the game within the context of the game. It is the “winning” position. Learning objectives are things an external institute (one who provided the games in the first place) wants the players to acquire during and/or after playing the game.

Game goal is a powerful motivation for player. If the game goal requires the learning of something, players will have a strong incentive to get that knowledge in order to achieve the game goal. The essence of “goal-based learning” can be summarised by Roger Schank’s15 question: “Why would anyone learn anything if not to help in the pursuit of a goal?”16. By creating a scenario and giving a learner a role in the scenario, Schank set up a goal for the learner. In pursuit of the game goal, the learner seeks out advice from experts (provided as short video clips in one implementation I have seen), makes decisions and eventually achieves the game goal. Although I called that particular implementation a glorified multiple choice, there is obviously a certain engaging facet for some learners.

The Scarlet Letter Simulation17, a role play simulation18, is “a psychological examination of the values, mores, and traditions impregnating American literature as portrayed by Nathaniel Hawthorne's characterization of early American Puritan culture. The simulation aims to explore the themes of sin, hypocrisy, repression, self knowledge and the fall of Puritan society. Players will experience the conflicts inherent in questioning why individuals struggle with their actions and feelings, why individuals feel the need to chastise others, and how individuals deal with the conflicting desires of nature and the demands society”. Some of the roles in the simulation are taken from the novel, some are created by the simulation designers Mary Noggle and Roni Linser. To start the game, players are asked to write a “role profile” which gives a description of the role (and the hidden agenda of the role). This set up a game goal and the ownership of the role. Unlike Schank’s implementation, the game goals for each player are not the same although there is a common learning objective. Furthermore, as the game progresses, the game goal can and may change. We19 call this dynamic goal-based learning.

Again in the Scarlet Letter Simulation, the game started as the moderator released a “kick-start” episode – a compelling reason for the roles to act. In fact, in this simulation, two kick-start episodes were used. The second one brought the players to a time 15 years later.

Engagement is about engaging the mind. When the players own the role they play and have the freedom to do what they wanted to do – and enjoyed the consequence of the actions, the engagement is overwhelming. When the Scarlet Letter Simulation was used, all students read the text thoroughly, some several times in order to understand the characters, the circumstances surrounding the story and the historical context. This was the first time in the history of that course that all students did extensive research beyond the basic reading in order to play the role. This is the power of game goal.

White box game engine

The games which can be used successfully in education, such as x-plane, Thiagi’s simple games and role play simulation all have one common characteristic – the game goal and the context can be easily modified and adopted for different learning objectives.

Both Thiagi’s game and Fablusi online role play simulation platform can be considered as a shell where educators can easily add content, context and set up game goals. The Scarlet Letter Simulation, and many other simulations, ran on Fablusi™ online role play simulation platform which is based on a role play simulator generator20. There is no need to have any technical knowledge except the ability to visit a web site to create, moderate and deliver a role play simulation using Fablusi.

Similarly, Game engine can provide an engaging framework or as a simulator. The role of educator is to create compelling game goal which when achieved will require the mastery of the material that was covered by the learning objectives.

Designing games for use in education requires a shift of the focus of the creation process. Traditional instructional design calls for identification of learning objectives, the material that support the learning objectives and then formulate the sequence of the material. In designing games for education, after identifying the learning objectives, we look for a scenario in which we can set up compelling game goals for the players. At the same time, in order to achieve the game goals, the players need to have progressive mastery of the material covered by the learning objective. Learning is the by-product of playing.

Collaboration & Minimalist Design

Thiagi’s email games and online role play simulations share two features which are very desirable in education – collaboration and minimalist design.

Both of these designs require players to be competitors and collaborators at the same time – an essential requirement of survival in today’s hyper-competitive world. Thiagi’s game is player inter-dependent. The output of a group of players becomes the input for another group or the next stage. Role playing, in a sense, is a co-creation of the acts in the scenario. Players act out a persona, without a script, to investigate, understand and experience the circumstances the persona is placed in the scenario. Players solve the problems, which require mastery of the material of the learning objectives, in the light of a persona. This may involve collaborating with other players. This may also involve competition with other players.

All the role play simulations on the Fablusi™ platform supports an additional layer of collaboration. A team of players is to play one role! It is required that a role to act coherently throughout the period of the simulation. As a result, players, when playing in a team, need to co-ordinate among themselves in order to ensure the role is acting coherently. That would require the articulation of tactics and strategies adopted by the role among the team members. This process of articulation serves as a learning process that we aimed for.

Thiagi’s email games and online role play simulations do not have elaborate and expensive graphics. The focus is to elicit the imagination of the players – not the designers. Without those expensive 3-D virtual environment or graphics, educators can create the email game or an online role play simulation in very short time, typically half an hour for email game and a day for role play simulation. Both email game and role play simulation runs for weeks. That is a very effective use of development time.

Commercial games are technically challenging to create, partly because of the sophisticated rendering of fast moving graphics. As a commercial game, production value counts. However, judging from purely “engage-ability” point of view, the engagement of the mind is more important and valuable. Of course, if education can afford it, there is no reason why we should not adopt high fidelity rendering. When a balance needs to be made, I will lean towards engaging the mind rather than on production value of the game.


I believe that a direct adoption of commercial off the shelf game, an attractive proposal as it might look at first glance, is not the best approach we should take. Rather, I suggest that we should look beyond games and identify what really capture the minds of our students. Engagement is about engaging the mind. Like chess, the production value of the chess pieces is secondary to the engaging nature of the game.

I have been involved in an engaging pedagogical design for the past 5 years. The engaging nature of online role play simulation is unquestionable. The learning outcomes were surprisingly pleasing. Learners went beyond the traditional requirement and searched out more information in order to play the role. The learning is much deeper, more memorable and more fun.

In this essay, I have shared with the readers several key messages. The most important one is about the design of game goals which align with learning objectives. If the game is engaging and the game goal is compelling, the players will master what is required to achieve the goal.

Why would anyone learn anything if not to help in the pursuit of a goal?” – Roger Schank, 1992.

1 See for example Begona Gros, (July 2003) The Impact of digital games in education, http://www.firstmonday.org/issues/issue8_7/xyzgros/index.html

2 James Paul Gee (2003), What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy

3 Clark Aldrich (2005), Learning by Doing: A Comprehensive Guide to Simulations, Computer Games, and Pedagogy in e-Learning and Other Educational Experiences

4 John C. Beck, Mitchell Wade (2004),Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever (Hardcover)

5 See Serious Games Initiative (http://www.seriousgames.org/index2.html); Serious Games Summit (http://www.seriousgamessummit.com/); Game Develops Conference (http://www.gdconf.com/conference/seriousgamessummit.htm); and many other conferences just in 2006.

6 Angela McFarlane, Anne Sparrowhawk & Ysanne Heald (2005), Report on the educational use of games, online http://educationarcade.org/files/videos/conf2005/Angela%20MacFarlane-2.pdf

7 http://simcity.ea.com/

8 http://www.americancity.org/article.php?id_article=21

9 http://www.x-plane.com/

10 http://www.x-plane.com/orbiter.html

11 http://www.x-plane.com/mars.html

12 http://www.x-plane.com/FTD.html

13 http://thiagi.com

14 http://www.fablusi.com

15 http://www.engines4ed.org/hyperbook/misc/rcs.html

16 Schank, R. 1992. Goal-based scenarios. Chicago: Northwestern University Institute for the Learning Sciences. http://cogprints.org/624/00/V11ANSEK.html

17 Mary Noggle (2005) A Novel Simulation for the Literature Classroom, online: http://www.simplay.net/LOW/papers05/novel_simulation.pdf

18 http://www.fablusi.com/renderer/default.asp?simID=rps2_94osy-1jpg

19 Som Naidu, Albert Ip & Roni Linser (2000), Dynamic Goal-Based Role-Play Simulation on the Web: A Case Study, online: http://ifets.ieee.org/periodical/vol_3_2000/b05.html

20 Albert Ip, Roni Linser & Som Naidu (2001), Simulated Worlds: Rapid Generation of Web-Based Role-Play, online http://ausweb.scu.edu.au/aw01/papers/refereed/ip/