Saturday, 29 July 2006

Bus Uncle - 2

Since I reported the "Bus Uncle" vidoes from, more variations have appeared. Here are some more interesting updates.






Why Commerical Games Will Not Work in Education? And What Is The Alternative?

[An early draft - comment welcome. Do not quote without contacting me first for updates to this essay.]


There is a lot of hype on using commercial games in education lately. The premise is that commercial games are engaging and hence by using commercial games, educators can engage learners in their learning. 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 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” lately.

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.

However, game community does tell us one very important message. When properly designed, learners can be engaged in games. James Paul Gee shows us that everyone can learn something from games. So instead of dismissing the use of games in education, let’s embrace the concept and find out how we should do it.

Using Real Games For Education Purposes

SimCity 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 Culture 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, the “black box” nature of a commercial game and the demand of engagement for the game designers have also included some unspoken assumptions. These assumptions undermine the usefulness of the game in serious educational settings. 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.

X-plane 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 Shuttle and simulated flight in the atmosphere of Mars to amazing accuracy of the Physics involved. Fourthly and most incredibly, x-plane received FAA approval to train pilots towards their commercial certificate !

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 did not know what I had to do, or what I wanted to do with the simulator! I lacked a “game goal”.

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 has assumptions contradictory to the values we want to teach. 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. People can create more planes for x-plane is also because of the opening of the game’s “black box”.

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. 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. Can we find games whose engaging game goals are in alignment with learning objectives?

Simple Games

Sivasailam Thiagarajan , 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: 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?)

The Role Of Game Design

I started this essay by proclaiming that education games will not work. I must 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 Fablusi designer. 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. Roger Schank asked “Why would anyone learn anything if not to help in the pursuit of a goal?” . 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 Simulation , a role play simulation , 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 change. We 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, this simulation, two kick-start episodes were used, the second one brought the players 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. 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 underlying game engine can be easily modified and adopted for different learning objectives. The Scarlet Letter Simulation ran on Fablusi™ online role play simulation platform which is based on a role play simulator generator .

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 of 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 sequencing of the material. In designing games for education, after identifying the learning objectives, we look for a scenario in which players need to have progressive mastery of the material covered by the learning objective in order to achieve interesting and compelling game goals. 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. 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, 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.


I believe that a direct adoption of commercial 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 piece 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, both from the data log showing when the players were online and the amount of time they spent within the simulation. 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.

In this essay, I have shared with the readers several key messages. The most important one being 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?

Learning is ...

Some selections from the Web:

Learning is the process of acquiring knowledge, skills, attitudes, or values, through study, experience, or teaching, that causes a change of behavior that is persistent, measurable, and specified or allows an individual to formulate a new mental construct or revise a prior mental construct (conceptual knowledge such as attitudes or values).. [Learning definition from Wikipedia]

Learning is to incorporate new information or skills into the learner's existing knowledge structure and to make that knowledge accessible. . . . and many other quotes. [Quotations on Teaching, Learning, and Education]

Learning is the result of "mental construction." [snip] by fitting new information together with what they already know. [Constructivist Teaching and Learning Models]

Learning is a persisting change in human performance or performance potential…[which] must come about as a result of the learner’s experience and interaction with the world. [Driscoll (2000) as quoted in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age]

In cognitive theories, knowledge is viewed as symbolic mental constructs in the learner's mind, and the learning process is the means by which these symbolic representations are committed to memory. [Cindy Buell as quoted in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age]

Learning is a socially enacted process, promotes the principality of the individual (and her/his physical presence – i.e. brain-based) in learning [Comment on social constructivist views in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age]

Learning, as a self-organizing process requires that the system (personal or organizational learning systems) “be informationally open, that is, for it to be able to classify its own interaction with an environment, it must be able to change its structure…” [Luis Mateus Rocha (1998) as quoted in Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age]

Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing. Learning is a process of connecting specialized nodes or information sources.[Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age, my emphasis]

Service-learning is "a method under which students learn and develop through active participation in thoughtfully organized service experiences that meet actual community needs, that are integrated into the students' academic curriculum or provide structured time for reflection and that enhance what is taught in school by extending student learning beyond the classroom and into the community." [Office of Student Volunteer Services]

[snip] liberal learning by pursuing intellectual work that is honest, challenging, and significant, and by preparing ourselves to use knowledge and power in responsible ways. Liberal learning is not confined to particular fields of study. What matters in liberal education is substantial content, rigorous methodology and an active engagement with the societal, ethical, and practical implications of our learning. [Statement on Liberal Learning]

Friday, 28 July 2006

Kindergarten Computer Centers

Simple games for the young!

Thursday, 27 July 2006

Learning happens best when ...

A few selections from the web:

Learning happens best when driven by self-interest, when it's self-initiated, and when it's allowed to happen wherever and whenever the interest strikes. [Life-based learning]

Learning happens best when the learners interact both with the information and with others. They discuss their understanding and communicate that understanding with others in their online learning community. There is a more effective understanding of the content and they are more likely to be able to apply it to different situations. [e-Learning Communities and Cultures]

Learning happens best in context, that is, when there's a real need to know.... Learning happens best when caring adults work with the child, have loving relationships, and explore the world together in ways that are interesting and fun. [Making the most of childhood: the importance of early years]

Learning happens best when leaders are stretched beyond their current levels of knowledge, skills, thought, and expertise - but that this is done in context. [Leader Development Across Cultures]

Learning happens best when
* all of your senses are engaged, not just hearing and sight, but smell, touch and taste;
* your technology is integrated. It should not be an end in itself, but a tool, which enhances your learning experience;
* you feel safe and secure. Learning is about risk taking. A sense of safety and security encourages you to stretch outside of yourself to achieve your best;
* you actively participate, you are actively engaged in making your own learning happen;
*you're connected to the world. There are levels of connections that you make with other learners, with teachers or "guides," with the school as a whole and with your community;
* you feel a sense of pride about your school and your community.
[Student Design Competition Mentoring Guideline]

Learning happens best when people are actively involved in their own learning; when they can draw on their own experiences; when they can connect thoughts with their feelings. [What is Peace?]

Learning happens best when it involves a continuous and interactive cycle of planning, application, feedback, and reflection, and when it occurs among those who have built strong relationships through mutual respect and trust. [TEACHING PHILOSOPHY]

Learning happens best when it happens for its own sake. (a child's innate desire to learn is a far more powerful motivating force than any external reward - or threat.) [Overview of The Free School]

Learning happens best when we are all working together, (students, teachers, and parents), to develop a rich learning environment spanning home, school, and the greater community [Monarch Alternative Community School]

Learning happens best when experience is involved. [Meet the Teachers - Elizabeth Smolcic]

Learning happens best when students and teachers are excited about what is being learned. [Educational philosophy by John M. Green, my emphasis ]

Learning happens best when you can browse around in a problem space, savoring the shapes, fiddling with the bits and pieces, twiddling the knobs--but always, always, taking your time. [Review of Papert, The Children's Machine]

Learning happens best when student-teacher relationships are based on mutual trust and respect... student, home and school have a common goal, interact positively and are mutually supportive. [Our Beliefs about Teaching and Learning]

Learning happens best when in "wholes" rather than in disjointed, decontextualized parts; learners perceive and participate in authentic uses of what is being learned; we value and take advantage of the social nature of learning; learners have control over what, when, and how they learn; earners have opportunity to reflect on their learning. [I Hate This Book Now: Re-imagining the Role of Packets in Teaching Reading and Writing ]

Learning happens best when when we act, and reflect on our actions before we act again. [Leadership Qualities]

Learning happens best when people first feel confident that they can do what they’re being asked to do and can trust that they will have the resources needed to do it. [Employees Remember Informal Learning Best]

Learning happens best when people participate in different communities to practice. The best collaboration environments provide the opportunity to meet, share ideas, discuss, and learn from one another’s experiences. [The York University Landscape Plan]

Learning happens best when individuals are provided with hands-on experiences that encourage observing, questioning, and problem solving. [Spectrum School]

Learning happens best when we are personally motivated and mentally challenged. [Where Are Young People Really Learning? ]

Learning happens best when when it is fun. [Course Philosophy of EDU 314: Teaching with Computers in Elementary and Secondary Schools, State University of New York College at Cortland]

Learning happens best when it is initiated by the learner. [The Concept of Unschooling]

Learning happens best when it is directly related to a person's life, goals and interests. [Course Objectives of EST 426/ ENS 626: Concepts of Sustainable Development, Suny-ESF]

Learning happens best when children are actively engaged with the world around them. [Bllingham Cooperative School]

Learning happens best when there is cooperation between teacher and student and when the student's own interests and desires are respected. [Ad of seeking a new President, The American College of Sofia, Bulgaria]

Tuesday, 25 July 2006


ASCILITE stands for Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education has been hosting its annual conference each year in the first week of December. There is a cult-like following each year where we met up with old pals. I met people like Stephen Downes many years ago at ASCILITE.

This year, the theme is "Who's Learning? Whose Technology?" and will be held in University of Sydney. The paper submission is due end of this month (Monday 31st July 2006 at noon, Sydney time). Those outside Australia please note that Australia East coast is +10 hours GMT, so treat the deadline as Sunday!

From the conference website:

The theme encourages you to confront one or both of these questions. (We recognise that most members of ascilite are free spirits and you will do what you want anyway. But linking to the theme will give you an edge in getting a place on the program.) [my emphasis]

Monday, 24 July 2006

Traditional Chinese Character

United Nation wants so stop using traditional Chinese from 2008. Please help to stop this by signing a petition at

Some background [my view]:

While Chinese has many different dialects (Cantonese and Mandarin are two of the more popular dialects), we have a unified written character set for 5,000 years - until the simplified Chinese was introduced. The traditional set, consists of about 56,000 characters, is used in ALL Chinese written work ever since the beginning of the written Chinese culture. Obviously there is a rich culture embedded and will only be understood if the traditional set is continuously being used.

Simplified Chinese reduces the set to about 3,000 characters. A lot of characters are either dropped or combined. Hence there will be a very significant overloading of meaning, which was clearly represented by different characters in the traditional set. I believe such an overloading eventually lead to a lost of Chinese culture.

Language is our most important tool to enable communication, between parties at present and between generations. The switch from traditional set to simplified set cut off the link between past and present - a sad situation for the Chinese as a whole.

Simplified Chinese as a way to reduce illiteracy and promote Chinese as an easier language is also a weak argument. I have read a study which suggests that we need around 800 to 1000 common characters in order to understand national newspapers. Chinese students, in Mainland, Hongkong and Taiwan, are able to read national newspapers by Primay 6. Can English, or any other language, do that? My mother, according to her, has only 3 years of education. She can write to me in Traditional Chinese with no problem!

Let me give an example.

When I came to Australia, I have big problem ordering food in restaurant - still the same today (My favourite disk is "me too" which has helped me to overcome this handicap!). Beef, pork, chicken, fish, lamb suggest nothing to me if I don't know each of these word individually.

In Chinese, 肉 means meat. If you are reading a Chinese menu, 牛肉, 豬肉, 雞肉, 魚肉 or 羊肉 means the meat part of the corresponding animal. So, even if we don't know what do 牛, 豬, 雞, 魚 or 羊 mean, we still know that the dish has meat in it. The equivalent of these in simplified Chinese are: 牛肉, 猪肉, 鸡肉, 鱼肉, 羊肉. There are the same number of words that you need to know. However, as I know the traditional set, I have no problem reading the simplified set. But not necessarily vice versa!

Chinese do not have variations for tense, gender nor number! Time is either implicit from context or explicit using words to represent the time.

Please support me and vote to keep the traditional set of Chinese characters and help to preserve the culture of China!

Medical use of Virtual Reality

This is a simple but effective concept. Use VR games (in vast space) for people with claustrophobic when they need to enter small space (such as MRI scanning). By focusing on the game, people won't realise that they are actually in a small space.

Sunday, 23 July 2006

My visit to USA

I will be visiting USA in late Oct and early Nov to attend a LoW3 (Leagues of Worlds)at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, from October 30 to November 3 2006. It may be good opportunity to meet some of you before or after the meeting.

As many of you may know, I have been doing a lot of work on the use of online role play simulations in the past 5 to 6 years, some work in SCORM and various other things. I would be most interested to discuss issues of mutual interest. If you like, I can also present my latest research (online role play and games in education) to you, your colleagues or your instructional technology students.

Leave me a comment if you are interested.

Friday, 21 July 2006

Browser Grades

by Nate Koechley

For web developer like me, I have been using Firefox for quite some time. Judging from the table, it is the only A-grade browser across a broad spectum of OS.

Hey, Linux is not listed in the table! But I know Firefox also works well in the several desktop Linux I have tried, including Federo 5 and Ubuntu.

A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers

by Amanda Lenhart and Susannah Fox

Some findings and some unanswered questions:

54% of bloggers say that they have never published their writing or media creations anywhere else; 44% say they have published elsewhere.

Eight percent of internet users, or about 12 million American adults, keep a blog. Thirty-nine percent of internet users, or about 57 million American adults, read blogs. What about the rest of the world? [my question in bold]

37% of bloggers cite “my life and experiences” as a primary topic of their blog. Politics and government ran a very distant second with 11% of bloggers citing those issues of public life as the main subject of their blog. What is the percentage who blog educational issues?

34% of bloggers consider their blog a form of journalism, and 65% of bloggers do not. 57% of bloggers include links to original sources either “sometimes” or “often.” 56% of bloggers spend extra time trying to verify facts they want to include in a post either “sometimes” or “often.”

95% of bloggers get news from the internet, compared with 73% of all internet users.

Wednesday, 19 July 2006

Reflection on the Eve of International Conference on the Use of Books in Education 2031

[Note: This article is originally published in Hong Kong Association For Computer Education 2005 Year Book]

Tomorrow I am going to deliver a keynote to the ICUBE 2031. What should I say, I wonder.

25 years ago, the pendulum of pedagogy started to swing into the experience-based elearning. Has the pendulum swung too much?

In late last century, Tim B. Lee invented World Wide Web and made communication and computing a ubiquitous part of everyone’s life. Big international corporations started to carry out business and some became very successful. New ventures, such as Amazon and Google also started in late 1990 and early 2000. Everyone was trying to figure out what this WWW and Internet was about. About that time, people bought their music (about 10 songs) on a plastic disc called CD for about $1000 today’s value, around $30 at that time. Looking back, we could understand why the music industries were very eager to protect their monopoly market. The whole music industries were dominated by a few big players. Then iTune from Apple came along. With hindsight, we knew that iTune was a way for Apple to sell their personal music storage/player, iPod – which could store about 3000 songs. However, it started the revolution by allowing people to download songs at $100. It still sounds very expensive in today’s terms. No one would pay that amount of money when the marginal cost of production and digital distribution was near zero. However, please remember that at that time, a typical radio station had only a playlist of about 300 songs. Anyway, that was the “content is king” era.

The “content is king” paradigm was also the big driving force in the delivery of education. I can recall that online universities were rare and have received little recognition. However, the residential universities were all facing substantial pressure from the students who were demanding online access to their courses. So many educational institutes, starting with the higher education sector, used systems called “Learning Management Systems”. It was a wrong term. LMS did not manage “learning”. LMS was basically a student administrative system to log students’ access to “content”. The teachers, extinct today, were deemed as the expert in the domain they teach. Teachers put online what they thought would be useful to the students. Students received little support in learning. They were basically asked to read the content. Whether students understood the material did not matter. Students had to take an examination at a fixed time in the year to assess whether they had understood the content. If they failed, they discontinued their studies and fees paid were not refunded.

One may wonder why such irresponsible education establishments would be there. Well, at the time, information and access to information was not as easy as today and education was a “people filtering” system (sorting out different people to do different jobs), not about developing personal potential to the full. The universities were able to maintain their status by having huge physical libraries where books were stored. People could access information only by visiting the libraries and read from limited copies of books. Things started to change in around 2005 when Google started to scan books and made the content searchable. At that time, people had to pay subscription to “digital library” in order to access the online content. Of course, we now know that the situation had changed since 2015 when Google made all information available free to the world.

Having said that, there were pioneers who understood the fallacy of the “content is king” paradigm. MIT had begun their process of putting all their course material on the Web for free global access. BBC in UK also started to put their historical archive of videos available online, but limited access to people living in UK only. Organisations, such as EFF as it was called then, were fighting to make information free and against the increasing long copyright protection. Driven by their advertising-based business models, search engines, Google in particular, were making more and more content available online which eventually killed the “content is king” paradigm. The early version of the current geographical data visualization was called Google Earth. It was the beginning of making huge data repository online for people to mash up with other uses they could imagine.

The greed of the publishers and some corporate owner of the content and their inability to adjust to the new business model also contributed to the decline of “content is king” paradigm. As the subscription of the paper-based journals, digital libraries and paid music continued to decline, the fees continued to climb instead of falling (due to their monopoly power). At some point, even the most well-resourced libraries could not afford the fees. People just gave up the paid content and totally switched to free content. (BTW, at the early part of this century, paper was still produced from dead trees and could not be changed once information was PRINTED or WRITTEN on them.) Universities started to encourage their staff to publish online by changing the promotion criteria.

One may ask why publishers could own so much content and why teachers were willing to forfeit their rights just for publishing. Before 2010, most universities were judging their staff by the ability to create new information, not by by their ability to help students learnt. “Publish or perish” as it was known. In order to ensure the “quality of research”, the publication had to be published and undergone a “peer review” process - basically a process in which a few anonymous peers would rate the publication before it was published. The publishers basically organized peer reviews and demanded the copyright to be transferred to them for the work to appear in the publication.

We may laugh at how ridiculous that may sound. Teachers were paid to help people learn, not to produce more content. The fact was that at the time, few understood the learning process and delivering content was the mainstream strategy. Teachers were promoted based on publications.

By 2015, many of the Generation X have achieved executive levels at education institutes and government agencies. Some remembered how frustrated they were when they had to learn from content without support. Some were determined to change the way education should be delivered.

The momentum actually started about 25 years ago when Tim O’reilly coined the term “Web 2.0” and put the focus squarely on treating the Web as an interaction platform, instead of a delivery platform. Simulations, both rule-based and role-based were also started to receive more attention in the elearning field. In the same year, my own role play simulation platform, Fablusi, got its first major customer – the US Army War College. The general acceptance of learning via experience (virtual or real) became mainstream in 2015. It took almost 10 years to reach that stage.

Today, are we over-emphasizing the role of experience in our education for our future generation? Are we spending too much time in simulators? With their dependence on their personal agent, our kids cannot even do a simple addition by themselves! They cannot remember name of the last UN president. They will just not be able to enjoy great TV games like “Who wants to be a Millionaire” popular in the early 2000. Should we start focusing on the value of the ability to memorize at least some critical information, e.g. the birthday of your spouse without the personal agent? I don’t know how our kids can survive a day with their agents switched off. Books, obviously different from 25 years ago, should have a new life in the future education of our kids. Our next generation should learn to survive without their personal agent. That would be my plea to the audience tomorrow!

Filed on 15th March, 2031.

Tuesday, 18 July 2006


At the 7th International Conference on Information Technology Based Higher Education and Training, there was quite a bit of discussion and presentations on Plagiarism.

From the paper by Ass. prof. Nina Ree-Lindstad, Ass. prof. and Academic Librarian Kristin Røijen, Ass. prof. Tone Vold titled Experience with a plagiarism control module,

Encyclopaedia Britannica defines plagiarism as:
“The act of taking the writings of another person and passing them off as one's own. The fraudulence is closely related to forgery and piracy—practices generally in violation of copyright laws.
If only thoughts are duplicated, expressed in different words, there is no breach of contract. Also, there is no breach if it can be proved that the duplicated wordage was arrived at independently.”

However, this is not the only definition I heard during the conference. In Automatic Generation of Plagiarism Detection Among Student Programs by Rachel Edita Roxas, Nathalie Rose Lim and Natasja Bautista, they plagiarism detection program includes features to detect "modification of control structures, use of temporary variables and subexpressions, in-lining and re-factoring of methods, and redundancy (variables or methods that were not used)." This is more than just "copy-and-paste" plagiarism defined by Encyclopaedia Britannica.

In Impact of Unethical Practices of Plagiarism on Learning, Teaching and Research in Higher Education: Some Combating Strategies, Subrata Kumar Dey and M Abdus Sobhan looked at plagiarism in three different levels: students, researchers and teachers. In their survy of 6 higher education institutes in Bangladesh, they found out of 85 samples from "regular students", 3 downloading the material from Internet and submit as it is, 45 copy from peers, 22 buy from private tutor, 2 collect and submit old work, 76 use downloaded material with modification without mentioning the source, 65 copy one or more sections from books, articles etc without citation. Only 14 do not plagiarise.

Beyond the issue of copyright, plagiarism will be hindering the understanding of the material.

I have agreed with Ian Kennedy to start a process to create a common understanding of what is plagiarism in education (may be separately for higher education, secondary schools and life long). We agree that a board community based definition would be useful.

I will post here when the process starts.

Monday, 17 July 2006

Are students ready?

At the 7th International Conference on Information Technology Based Higher Education and Training last week at Sydney, I heard Prof. Shirley Alexander talked about her research in the state of online learning. At the moment, it seems that online learning in traditional universities has its place, but is only the best alternative.

During discussion, she also said that there was a case in which she thought the course was delivered excellently using role play simulation. However, after the course, students were complaining and ended up in an inquiry. The reason was that students thought they were asked to do too much work. "Why the lecturer did not tell us the answer right the way".

Obviously, the students were not prepared to "learn" - they were expected to be fed with information!

There is something I need to think carefully.

Thursday, 6 July 2006

Literature Circle

I have a meeting with Dr Pam Macintyre and Dr Ric Canale. Pam introduced the concept of Literature Circle whereby students takes on different roles during the study of literature. Some of the roles are Summarizer, Discussion Director, Investigator, Illustrator, Connector, Travel Tracer and/or Vocabulary Enricher.

I see that as Literature Circle provides a further "framing distance" in terms of study a work compared to using role play simulations (e.g. those Fablusi driven role play, such as The Scarlet Letter Simulation: An Examination of People and Times. In role play simulation, students play immersive roles (as character of the work) and have the freedom to develop the character and the direction the story could have developed. This enables students to really understand the character, the context surrounding the story and develop empathy and emotional links to the issues. In literature circle, students take a more "distance" / outside view into the story.

The two approaches have different application and merits. It depends on what is the learning objectives of your course. I do believe that role play simulation would give the learners much more fun in studying literature.

Human Ingenuity at its best

When we talk about learning/education as developing the human capital and potential, sometimes, it is odd to find that best invention came from need.

From BBC news, after years of neglect and civil war, the railways in Cambodian has only one passenger service per week.

So people in the north west of the country, near Cambodia's second city of Battambang, have taken matters into their own hands.

They have created their own rail service using little more than pieces of bamboo. The locals call the vehicles "noris", or "lorries", but overseas visitors know them as "bamboo trains".

If we are to learn anything from the story, we should design our courses so that students have to solve real life problem as a goal.

Tuesday, 4 July 2006

Internet Neutrality - 2

The last mile, controlled by BIG telcos sucks! Especially in Austrlia!

Most home's last mile is owned by Telstra - a monopoly. But my internet broadband connection is with another ISP (Telstra's own ISP is about 2 times more expensive). So when my telephone line drops, I needed to wait for Telstra to connect/repair - which takes 24 to 48 hours. This time, it took 76 hours. AND only after Telstra restored the telephone connection that I could get my ISP to connect/restore/repair my broadband connection. I have been waiting for 24 hours already. Nothing seems to have happened yet.

I am posting this via abother broadband connection - lucky I have two, but it is still not good enough. I paid for both and would expect both to work!

I thought about the problem of Internet Neutrality and am convinced that it is based on greed that telcos are trying to resurrect their failing business model. They wanted to make more money (just like the bank - this is a discussion for another day). They own the last mile - hence we are paying for the ISP connection. They are hard in negotiation with other ISP at the backbone inter-connection. Since these are business to business negotiation, I believe they are less likely to exert monopolistic pressure. So they turned around and try to bully the small customers.

Robert X. Cringely has a post If we build it they will come which supports "People on local levels band together and create a cooperative, through which they pay for the installation of their own Fiber-to-home connections." [from How To Solve The Net Neutrality Problem]. This would effectively raise the community into the status of a small ISP. As such, the community would need to negotiate at the backbone inter-connect level. The dynamics has not changed. The big telcos will still have the power to bully such small ISPs into accepting unreasonable terms.

No country in the world would and should allow private companies to own the main highways connecting the cities. (OK, there are stupid governments who gave private companies the right to charge toll!) This is a matter of national economy development. No one will live in a house where the only road leading to the house is owned by a private company who will charge you money when you pass everytime!

Robert's suggestion is like having a co-orporative to own the road common to our neighbourhood.

As far as the analogy goes, I believe, like geographical connectivity, the "last mile" should be a public good!

Back to the national highways, many tollways will revert back to public ownership after a certain period (after the cost of building the highway has been paid back). By similar argument, no country should allow private companies to own the backbone of internet traffic on which so much economic potential are growing. National backbone should be a public good.

Just like roads, the economic is NOT the road itself. Roads enable goods to move! Network transport is not the value of the network. Network transport facilitate value growth!

International traffic, internet traffic, should be negotiated at an international levels - this would be another discussion another day.

Sunday, 2 July 2006

The Stroop Effect

from Cognitive Daily by Dave Munger

Dave has created a little demo to illustrate. It is an animated GIF.

You'll see an image flash quickly, followed by a blank screen. As quickly as possible after the image flashes, say the color of the rectangle in front. Ignore any words printed on the rectangles; you just want to name the color of the rectangle in front.

There are two parts in the experiment. You task is to find out which part is easier, the first part or the second part? Here is the experiment.

When I did the experiment, about 125 people have done so before me. The majority agrees with me. (or I agree with the majority!)

So, what is the implication when we are trying to tell something to our learners? Avoid Stroop effect! In order words, make sure we provide a consistent experience throughout. Is that too much of an extrapolation from this little experiment?

Half a brain

via BoingBoing

This week's New Yorker features an engaging article by Christine Kenneally about hemispherectomy, perhaps "the most radical procedure in neurosurgery." In this procedure, an entire side of the hemisphere is removed as a treatment for cancer or chronic seizures. The incredible thing is that if the hemispherectomy is done when a patient is very young, the remaining hemisphere does double duty and the child often develops normally.

From Half a Brain via Children with half a brain
Half a Brain is Enough is the extraordinary story of Nico, a three-year-old boy who was given a right hemispherectomy to control his severe intractable epilepsy. Antonio Battro, a distinguished neuroscientist and educationalist, describes his work with Nico over several years and explains how a boy with only half a brain has developed into a bright child with relatively minor physical and mental impairment. Eight years later, he runs and plays with only a slight limp. So far, there is no significant cognitive or affective disorder and it appears that Nico's so-called right-hemisphere skills--mathematics, visual arts, and music--have migrated to the left hemisphere. At school, he performs as a child of his age in arithmetic and music; only his draftsmanship and handwriting are poor for his age, but he has not lost his cognitive spatial ability. Battro and his colleagues have been studying and teaching Nico with computers and he is mastering written language with a word processor and is able to make good graphic designs with a computer. Nico performs well above average verbally, a left-brain skill.

This is remarkable. There is lot of things we don't know about the brain and obviously how we learn.