Monday, 31 December 2007

Only God Gets Things Right First Time

I really like the title.

Whether there is god or not, it is OK for us to make mistakes - not only the first time, but many times, again and again ... until it works!

Small successes generate fulfillment and encourage more try and error.

Small failures build experience and resilience.

"R & D" is "Repeat and Duplicate". Only after successfully repeat previous experiments and duplicated results that we can start making small change which may or may not lead to improvement.

Aha moment is the sudden connection between seemingly unrelated concepts which give insight (or a different angle) to the solution of a problem. Again that means the concepts have been in our mind for a long time and the problem has persisted enough to recognise the significant of the sudden connection. Experience, experience!

Coverage Equity - Part 1

Are teachers obliged to cover every part of a syllabus?

When I was teaching in Hong Kong, I used to tell my students that "I teach things that won't be examined and I set questions which I have not taught" (教不考,考不教.) Of course, in an examination oriented system, I got lots of protests.

BUT, I can explain. I told my students that there is no way I can predict what will be set in a public examination (even for those serving as question setters, they should not let their students know the question in advance, right?) The only way I can teach them (my students) to be well prepared is not by teaching them how to answer "a" question. The best way is to teach them how to answer "any" question. So those that I used as examples in my lessons, I promise them that they will not appear in the papers that I set for their examination. (This explains the first half.) For those questions that I set for their examination, I won't discuss in class! That's the other half.

It is better to teach how to fish rather than just give them fish!

But the same proclamation has also protected me from not covering every part of a syllabus.

I always asked my students to come to my lesson "unprepared". They need to bring no textbook (unless I explicitly asked them to do so in the next lesson). They only need to bring a working brain, a rough sketch book, pen and ruler to my class. I emphasis on a working brain, explaining that "day-dreaming" brain is NOT a working brain in my class!

I believe science is a journey, a process of exploration and discovery, a joy in discovering something new about nature and the things surrounding us. I ask questions, get them focus on the issue at hand and ask them to find the answer.

Discovery and innovation are slow and expensive (compared to duplication or copying, - just simple transfer of information). Hence it is often the case that I can only cover that much of material in the allocated time.

It was over 15 years ago. My role as a teacher was still very much an information age keeper. Obviously some students would/should hate me. But in real life, I found that I was one of the most favorite teacher. When I walked into a class empty-handed, students would love the class. When I walked into the room with a textbook, they knew that I was forced to cover material, in a quick hurry!

Today, information is widely and freely available. Many a time, students could be more knowledgeable in a special area than the teacher. Teacher no longer is the information gate-keeper. What should be our role? Should we insist on covering every aspect of a syllabus (to give the students a more "balanced" perspective on the subject area)? Should we allow students to specialise into parts of a syllabus? How should an evaluation system be designed to meet the new reality?

Sunday, 30 December 2007

Problem-based : Role Play Simulation

Is role play simulation (RPS) a form of problem-based learning (PBL)?

Both starts with considering a problem situation and try to provide an authentic learning experience to the players/students.

PBL typically has ONE problem (although it may be complex and involve several steps) to solve and it is also typical that there is ONE best solution. ALL learners are expected to solve the same problem.

RPS presents a complex situation, with multiple (conflicting) stakeholder interests. There is typically NO single correct solution. Students play our the situation in the sole of the roles (each role may represent one or more stakeholder interests). The game goal can change as the simulation progress (indicating either the result of the learning experience or the need to adapt to different strategy).

PBL does not finish until a solution is found. RPS focuses more on the process and it is normal to end a RPS without reaching a solution. (For example, Andrew Vincent's Middle East Political Simulation can have an end as it reflects the real life. History will not stop!)

Some RPS do NOT have any embedded problem. While the simulation designer may create a scenario with a compelling kick-start episode, the kick-start episode not necessarily represents the actual problem/issue that the RPS has been designed to 'teach'. Mary Noggle's "Scarlet Letter Simulation' for American Literature is designed to give the students a "stage' to experience the life at the Puritan era. The kick-start episode is just a start and there is no obvious problem for the players to solve.

Both PBL and RPS are not designed for transfer of information, they act as motivator for students to seek out and understand information necessary for solving the problem (PBL) or handling the situation/issue (RPS). The design motivation is the same.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Science Project for the holiday

What you will need:
a plate
full cream milk
food colours

An improved procedure [source]

1. Pour some full cream milk into a dinner plate
2. Squeeze some drops of food dye into the milk (one colour on one side, other colour on other side)
3. Add a drop of detergent onto the edge of the plate so it runs down into the milk
4. The colours begin swirling like a psychadelic pattern
5. You can add more detergent if the motion stops

Explanation [The explanation in the above video is incorrect]
Like milk itself, this classic experiment is actually quite complicated. Milk is a suspension of tiny fat globules (about 4% by volume) in water, plus a whole range of proteins, sugar (lactose) and nutrients like calcium. Detergent is a form of surfactant (short for surface active agent) - individual detergent molecules can bind with both water and oil.

The swirling effect in milk is probably driven by the detergent molecules racing around and coating the fat globules. As the detergent molecules are "consumed" by the fat, they create currents. You'll notice colours from the opposite edge of the plate appearing near the detergent and then shooting across the surface.

Friday, 14 December 2007

9-yr Old Review of XO laptop

BBC reporter brought back an XO laptop and gave it to his 9-year old son for a review.

With no help from his Dad, he has learned far more about computers than he knew a couple of weeks ago, and the XO appears to be a more creative tool than the games consoles which occupy rather too much of his time.

Frankly, at the price of a game console (for 2, one is denoted to the needy), everyone should consider buying XO laptop to give to their children - as christmas present perhaps while helping the kids in the under-developed countries.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Season Greeting

To all my readers and friends:

Wishing you all an

Awesome Lively Brilliant Entertaining Rewarding Terrific


Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Yahoo! Answers: Teachers' Nightmare or Blessing?

From Slate:

The blockbuster success of Yahoo! Answers is all the more surprising once you spend a few days using the site. While Answers is a valuable window into how people look for information online, it looks like a complete disaster as a traditional reference tool. It encourages bad research habits, rewards people who post things that aren't true, and frequently labels factual errors as correct information. It's every middle-school teacher's worst nightmare about the Web.

This highlight the need to enable our students to be able to distinguish between correct and accurate information from false, incorrect or deceptive information. Teachers are no longer the gate-keeper of information. Instead, teachers should aim to help students develop critical analytical skill to handle the vast amount of information available.

Instead of asking students to provide information to some traditional essay type paper, why can't we ask the students to identify incorrect or misleading information from sources such as Yahoo!Answers. Is it a much more valid exercise?

Yahoo!Answers may be a nightmare for the librarians, for the creative teachers, it may be a blessing - a prefect opportunity to let students exercise their critical and analytical skills in processing information.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Review of XO laptop

XO laptop, aka $100 laptop which is now costing some $180, is reviewed by David Pogue at The New York Times.

Hey, XO may be a potential ebook reader killer!

Monday, 3 December 2007

EnRoLE network members at ASCILITE Singapore 2007

Congratulations and thanks to EnRoLE network members representing the online role play community at  ASCILITE Singapore 2007

Workshop: Online role play: What it means for learners, developers and educators Ann Davenport and Judi Baron The University of Adelaide

Papers presented in Online Role Play Symposium :

Davenport, A. & Baron, J. Meeting the 21st century challenge: The situational learning initiative at U Adelaide

Lambert, S. & Macdonald, D. Reuse of a role play for new university teachers

Devonshire, E. Peer review: A process of EnRoLE(ing) as a reuser

Roberts, A.G. Beyond a participation focus

Leigh, E., Meyers, W. & Rosser, E. Learning design discussions: A conversation tool

Cross posted to EnRoLE

Sunday, 2 December 2007

How does Richard Dawkins gain the respect of John Grahm-Cumming

In John Grahm-Cumming's post title Double-checking Dawkins, John double-checked one sentence written by Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker. After some research, John found out that in 1986 when Richard was busy writing the book on an Apple ][, Richard has actually spent time to poke around inside his computer's ROM.

This is a respect well-deserved. If Richard has been so careful to make sure a minor fact in his book is correct, I have faith that the rest of the facts would have been more than double-checked. My salute to Richard Dawkins!

Friday, 30 November 2007

The Power of Mush-up

The following three youTube videos are based on the same song. Which one you think is better?

Here are my choices.

Place 3:

Place 2:

and the Winner:

Do you agree?

Here are two other based on different tunes. For those who have lived in Hong Kong, the tunes in the next will be very familar.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Use Google as Your Own P2P Network

More than just teach me how to Google as my own P2P network, I also learnt a few tricks as well.

1. intitle: in google search
2. that a period (.) in the search keyword stands for ., _ or space
3. making a bookmarklet (for firefox)


Monday, 19 November 2007

The Unique Effects of Including History in College Algebra

via Scout Report:

A team of mathematicians at Black Hills State University {...} decided to investigate what the effects of including historical modules in college algebra might be in regards to students' understanding and mathematical communication.

The result - 'Over the last three years at BHSU, great strides have been made in improving student outcomes in College Algebra with the inclusion of history in the course.':
1. increase in following enrolling (triagonometry) - 5 students in 2003 and 2004 to 20 students in 2007
2. significant improvement on test problems where mathematical vocabulary and notation have created difficulty for students in the past.
3. 10% increase in the College Algebra passing rate since 2005 has come since the addition of the historical modules

The faculty feels that including historical development of mathematics is of key importance and believe that the full benefits of history inclusion have yet to be reached.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Zeitgeist - the greatest lie ever told

Here are some comments about Zeitgeist - The movie from the post.

1. use cheap graphic effects with bad rendering and metaphors


loosely plagiarized version of the God Who Wasn’t There, complete with much of the same archive footage. The premise is that Christianity is based upon previous religions. Fair enough, apart from the plagiarism

usually means nothing and is patently false but incredibly seductive

Do they qualify as triangulation [see Where is the truth]?

The post coined FEBL (Fucking Entertaining Big Lie). I would add FEBLBP - FEBL Blog post!

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Where is the truth?

In a comment left to Zeitgeist - The Movie, my reader asks

Ok, I understand that I shouldn't take this film as gospel and I need to find the answers for myself, but where? Wikipedia is apparently a joke. The internet is full of false information, and after watching this video I don't know if I can trust history books anymore. If we are in fact being lied to, then what resources exist that I can actually trust? I'm feeling very cynical about this. Can anyone ever really know the truth?

Good question. Where can we find the truth?

Different people will have different answers to this question. To me, where is only one way: Triangulation from multiple independent sources.

For scientific facts, If I were doing science, I would repeat the experiment myself and verify to my own satisfaction that the outcome is really as described. Unfortunately, under most circumstances, not everyone has the resource to repeat an experiment. The second best would be find other data of similar experiments and verify the data and calculation to see if the same conclusion can be drawn.

For historical accounts, such as 9/11, again triangulation from multiple independent sources. Some sources will have more weight than others, for example those first person account IMMEDIATELY after the event, those TV interviews on that terrible day. Other important things to look for are minor details - details that rehearsed versions will not cover.

By now, I have forgotten most of "Zeitgeist - The Movie", however there are a number of questions still remain in my mind which I don't have a satisfactory answer:

1. How to explain the claim that multiple explosions were heard by people escaping from the collapsing towers on that day. These people escaping from the falling towers did not have any motivation to tell any lie. They were saying what they felt/heard. May be the "explosions" were floors hitting one another. But the speed of collapse (at free falling speed) could not support floor hitting each other.
2. How BBC could have reported the collapse of building 7 BEFORE the building had actually collapsed? Millions of people would have seen that news (and there are plenty of that video on the web) and none have come forward to claim that that news was fake. So, how can we explain that?
3. I remotely remember I saw a photo of ground zero showing huge steel column with a clean skewed cut. If my memory of that photo is correct, how can we explain that clean cut would be caused by burning of airline fuel?

Back to the main issue of this post: Where can we find the truth? The answer will not come from those with vested interest. We should be looking at elsewhere, from sources with NO motivation to lie. We should forget about the theory and look for evidence and form a theory for ourselves.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Monkey keeps a pet cat

This monkey in a zoo is keeping a pet cat. Enjoy!

Saturday, 3 November 2007

Free online citation tool - Zotero

from the website:

is a free, easy-to-use Firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources.

Look like I will be putting proper citation in future blog posts more.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Same Issue, different viewpoints

Shanghaiist has posted an interesting article: Made in China: Australia's Channel 7 vs. Al-Jazeera. Two youtube videos side by side, one by Australia's Channel 7 and other by Al-Jazeera.

Australia's Channel 7:


I learn at least the following after viewing both videos.

1. While the Australian are complaining about the quality of products made in China, we must remember that it is the business that have created the issue in the first place. The workers who painted the toy with lead-based paint are at greater risk than the children who may play with the toy. If we are to lay blame, we should catch those who profiteering.

2. China has 1/4 of the world population. The sweatshop is not limited to those within the geographical borders.

3. Extending the issue, China is only one of the developing countries. As she progresses, she will definitely move out of the "sweatshop" era. However, there are many more under-developed countries. Would we, in the affluent countries, help these people?

Watch this as well:

and one of comment said it well:

Therefore, please, kids, China is not the point here. The point is Wal Mart, Capitalism, Globalization.
It is just happened that Wal Mart has found china to be the most cost effective place to produce its products at this moment. Tomorrow there will be other place, such as India or South Africa, even more cost-effective tha China.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

When Wikipedia Is the Assignment

via OLDaily

The use of wikipedia as an assignment should (and *will* as more teachers understand the value of doing so) definitely receive great support and wide appreciation. The assignment suggested by the article has the following advantages:
1. a real introduction to the community of practice the students are aspired to.
2. a solid contribution to the broader community by the work done by the students.
3. a good motivator for students - the work is REAL and is appreciated by many.

I believe there is ground of improvement too.

Not all academic work and progress are made in a big step. In fact, small steps are the norm. As students begin participation of their chosen community of practice, we should encourage them to take part and contribute in smaller steps. Instead of asking students to submit a whole article (and potentially creating the disappointment of being merged or deleted by the wikipedia community), an equally valuable contribution would be to make positive improvements to existing articles.

If the weighting of the assignment is 40%, students can be asked to make 40 improvements to a broad range of relevant articles (of their own choosing preferably). If the improvement survives after a given time interval (depending on the revision cycle of the article), the point is awarded. Those who made contributions which do not survive the wikipedia review process, they may be given an opportunity by making another improvement to another article etc (time permitting, of course under the current "fixed time" slotted school system).

This change will help to cover a wider range of topics too.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Sketch gets student, 7, school suspension

I am seriously troubled by this story.

7 year old boy suspended from the Dennis Township schools for a stick figure drawing he created depicting one figure shooting another figure with a gun or water pistol.

1. School is a place for learning, ie making mistakes and learn from the mistake with little consequence *outside* the learning environment, ie the school. Suspension is hardly an educational device. You cannot educate people by denying the opportunity to educate them.
2. The mother re-confirmed the kid that he was NOT in trouble. But at the same time, the power of suspension as an educational device (which is wrong, but it seems that some people believe that it has) will be gone by equating suspension to "NOT in trouble"!
3. As far as I know, Americans glorify weapons culturally (Top Gun is a great example). How can we expect a 7-year old not to be fascinated by gun!
4. "Zero-tolerance policy for guns" applied to drawing (a form of expression). On the same token, we should also apply to the more common form of expression - language. The word "GUN" should be banned in school as well. Then the policy should read "Zero-tolerance policy for xxx" to be politically correct! Hey, isn't USA as the first amendment about "freedom of speech"

Monday, 15 October 2007

Airline food

For those who fly to conferences everyday and worry about what is put into your body, you may like to check out this web site before you book your next flight.

Students say...

200 students collaborated on ONE online document to bring us this 5-minute message (via Couros Blog)

Saturday, 13 October 2007

The Ten Habits of Highly Effective Brains

Some key points:

"Use It or Lose It"

the brain only weighs 2% of body mass but consumes over 20% of the oxygen and nutrients

Practice positive, future-oriented thoughts until they become your default mindset and you look forward to every hansgrohe-downpour-air-royale-14in-shower.jpgnew day in a constructive way.

The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments.

Monday, 8 October 2007

The Physics Behind Four Amazing Demonstrations

In my first lesson to a class I have not taught before, I liked to hang a large metal ball in the middle of the teacher's area at about head high. As I walked into the class after the students have settled in, I deliberately walked pass the hanging ball, pull it close to my face to the other end of the room. I would release the ball and start to greet the students.

I can assure you that the students will not be looking at you. Instead they will be watching the ball as it swang to the other side of the room and came back to your face looking like to hit you soon.

As long as you keep steady, the ball will never hit you. But the dramatic effect will sure to hold your students attention to you for the rest of the year.

Here are 4 other dramatic demonstrations from David G. Willey.

Let's make Physics interesting, to the students!

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

New Math: Equations for Living

Book links: Amazon and Powells

Friday, 21 September 2007

New Blog on Virtual Worlds & Learning: Pop.Cosmo

As the time of writing, this new blog has 4 posts.

From the first post:

This site has been created so that we might be able to share our research findings more quickly and efficiently with a broader audience than academic print journals sometimes allow.

I look forward to reading some interesting research findings from this.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Don't tell me you sell 'learning'

I totally agree.

What learning is NOT is a product. It can NOT be shrink-wrapped. It can NOT be updated to version 1.2. It does NOT rely on a particular OS or even give a crap about what version of the Web we happen to on.

I agree we should encourage semantic accuracy. Start to say
Sell training. Sell systems that manage training or resources. Sell hardware or software but don't tell me you sell 'learning'

Unfortunately, a lot of money in elearning comes from corporate training (or big system sold to education institutes) and everyone in the market is chasing after the money. LMS is a good example. The correct term should be "Learner management system". But it does not sound as good as "Learning" management system. So the marketing people decides to use the latter - which is absolutely abuse of language.

Since when we started hearing about ROI in training - when big business (and the managers who supported the buying of training) needs to justify the cost to their boss who has no idea of what is learning. ROI is coined and given numbers - artificial numbers.

If we want to continue to sell to business for their training dollars, unfortunately, the word "learning" will coninue to be abused.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Constructive Alignment

From the website:

Constructive Alignment, a term coined by John Biggs (Biggs, 1999) ... is the underpinning concept behind the current requirements for programme specification, declarations of Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) and assessment criteria, and the use of criterion based assessment.

A short film on the approach is here

Learn by mistakes?

Should we encourage learning by mistakes? Case in point is sex education in secondary schools.

We do not teach our children to drive by allowing them to crash our cars. We only focus on making sure that they drive responsibly and correctly.

But when it is about human interaction and relationship, we are dealing at two levels: the social and actions. Building human relationship (marriage in particular) is not only about action (making love), it is more about understanding and enjoying the company of another human being.

Sex education seems to focus on "action" and taking precaution by talking about "protected sex". IS that encouraging "learning by mistakes"? Is that safe?

Sunday, 16 September 2007


From the website:

GeoGebra is a dynamic mathematics software for education in secondary schools that joins geometry, algebra and calculus.

On the one hand, GeoGebra is a dynamic geometry system. You can do constructions with points, vectors, segments, lines, conic sections as well as functions and change them dynamically afterwards.

On the other hand, equations and coordinates can be entered directly. Thus, GeoGebra has the ability to deal with variables for numbers, vectors and points, finds derivatives and integrals of functions and offers commands like Root or Extremum.

These two views are characteristic of GeoGebra: an expression in the algebra window corresponds to an object in the geometry window and vice versa.

I would characterise the website as a tool for creating visualisation of mathematical equations. :-)

See examples and an article Creating Mathlets with Open Source Tools

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Salt Water as Fuel?

This is too good to be true, but if it is true, it will really the greatest break through.

From the video, I understand that the burning is triggered by "radio frequency radiation" and can achieve a high temperature. There is ONE important point that has not been explained in the video: how much energy was used to producing the radio frequency wave and how much energy was generated as a result? The ability to produce high temperature is NOT the same as the ability to produce energy. Just like ability to produce potential difference "voltage" is not the same as electrical power.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Why re-invent the wheel

Here are two good reasons:

Bullshit- a 10-minute study

Inspired by Doug Johnson's BS Bingo

Bullshit, I scored myself on the first line of the BS Bingo.

[photo from I Me My]

One of my publicly documented Bullshits: Nano-learning (n-learning) is the future

If you are ready to pay $9.95, here is a book "On Bullshit" by Harry G. Frankfurt published by Princeton University Press.

Here are a few additional choices from Amazon for your BS pleasure:
Your Call Is Important To Us : The Truth About Bullshit
The Dictionary of Bullshit
The Business of Bullshit
Bullshit and Philosophy

OK, this is a subject that is too wide to study in only 10 minutes. Please look forward to a more detailed study report later.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Educating our kids out of their survival kit

The following two items get me thinking:

Law to increase activity eliminates recess at some schools
Not News: Our kids are fat. News: New law increases amount of physical education to 150 minutes per week in elementary schools. [source]

Do schools kill creativity?

The first item sends chills through my back. If school systems are managed like those described in the first article, the children will grow only into non-thinking ... slave.

The second item gives me hope and inspiration. A good analysis of current education system.

Please implement the ideas given by Ken Robinson!

Make a pocket LED cube

3x3x3 cube of LEDs programmable to light up anyone you like - even in an animation!

Sunday, 9 September 2007

A Giraffe is Born

The power of information has totally changed the role of teachers. Today, teachers are no longer is the gatekeeper of information. We should focus on helping our students to find and make sense of the information available.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Hydraulic robotic arm

via Gizmag

The robotic arm introduces kids to hydraulics in a fun and dynamic way that requires no batteries or external power source. By pumping the arm to generate energy it can then grab, move, lift and stack.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Physics as shown in movies

Here are some examples of the "gross scientific inaccuracies in the cinema world". See also

A fun project for the students would be to find and discuss such inaccuracies.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

How to Learn More and Study Less

by Scott Young

The article gives a lot a good suggestions to be an effective learner.

Here is my view on the same subject:

Study is input. Learning is output.

Just spending time taking in information is NOT the best way to learn. Learning is action you can do AFTER taking in information.

In the how to boost your study habits section of the article:

Metaphor - The heart of holistic learning is relating things together. Metaphors are literary devices that link two things that normally don’t go together.

Ten Year Old Rule - Explain ideas to yourself as you would to a ten year old.

Trace Back - Put away your books and start with a random fact or concept. Then relate that idea to another concept in your subject.

Write - Take a piece of paper and write out the connections in the information. Reorganize the information into different patterns. The key here is the writing, not the final product.

Out of the 7 habits, 4 is about output. You can definitely find out more way of OUTPUTing to order to learn more effectively. Blog is another way. :-)

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Google Earth Flight Simulator

by Marco Gallotta

A flight simulator has been embedded in the latest version of Google Earth. Here is what Marco has found out:

First of all you'll have to install the latest version of GE. Once you've started it all up, explored Google Sky a bit, then all you have to do is hit Ctrl+Alt+A (if you're running OS X it's Command+Option+A).

The information page of the control is here.

Friday, 31 August 2007

USA as the most powerful nation in the world - how long will it last?

Not long.

China was weakened at the beginning of the last century because of its closing of borders - thinking that she has already got everything her people need. Leadership problem! Before that, China was the strongest country in the world because of her more advanced technology ("advance" is always a comparative term.)

At the beginning of this century, China is the world's fastest growing economy AND continues to reduce her population through tight (although unwelcome) birth control. (Compare with India for example who will be continuously hindered by its population demands.)

While education levels in China is still small compared with developed countries, China produces more PhD in science and technology than USA. It is just a matter of time for China to become more inventive and catch up in its scientific and technological achievements.

I based on these two observations to draw the conclusion in the last paragraph:
1. People in USA are still blinded to believe that there is a GOD. (See Polling Data on Science and Religion) Bible is just a fiction, written by some "men" centuries ago (may be with motivations unknown to us today). Even the Pope will get sick and ill. Only medicine can help. Prayers will not do anything. The real miracles are SCIENCE.
2. The urge of Chinese people to get education.

USA policy continues to drain the wealth of its people into a few rich people's pockets (Listen to some of speeches by Noam Chomsky, e.g. the world after Iraq invasion). Bad health care system (see Michael Moore's moive SICKO).

Welcome to the China Century.

IGoogle’s New Gadget-to-Gadget Communication

Back in 1997, I was experimenting "virtual apparatus framework" in order to allow "components" on a page to communicate among themselves. [see also]. I faced great technical difficulties and unstable "live connect" implementations in various browsers.

10 years later, Google is calling "virtual apparatus" iGoogle gadgets and they are trying to enable these gadgets to publish and listen (one-way communication) and only limited from type="html" and type="html-inline" gadgets. I don't know what that means because I did not have time to really look into iGoogle gadgets.

An obvious hurdle will be allowing gadgets hosted from different domains to communicate - that "cross domain scripting" security model!

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Social Facts and Social Agreements

Ton Zijlstra wrote:

That George Bush is the US President, or Beatrix of Orange-Nassau is the Queen of the Netherlands is a social fact not an objective one. It is something we merely generally agree upon to be true (even those opposing monarchy, or those thinking Bush never beat Al Gore). We all behave like it is true. If we would stop that, it would indeed seize to be true.
Money systems, number and measures systems, religious belief systems etc. are social facts too. They're designed. They can be changed by groups simply stopping to accept them. Social facts are the emperor's new clothes. Social facts are the product of multi-subjectivity. We pretend that social facts are objective facts.

I would argue otherwise. That George W. Bush is the US President is a social agreement (between George W. Bush and people of USA) via a mechanism called election. USA people has agreed to give George W. Bush, until the next election, the power to execute some rights on behalf of the people.

Measurement units are also social agreements, negotiated agreements among international standards bodies in order to smooth the transactions of trade.

These social agreements can change, in fact they do change. However, these social agreements ARE not facts.

The statement "Jeanny is my wife" is a fact, a social fact. We married, in front of our parents, relatives, friends and so on. Of course, on the other hand, it is also a social agreement. If someday in the future, we get devoiced. The fact that she was my wife for these years remain as a fact and is true. The agreement part has changed!

With this, objectivity is NOT multi-subjectivity.

The statement "the earth is round" is a fact until proven wrong by scientific evidence. It is NOT negotiated among people inhibiting on Earth. Fact can be proven wrong and get revised. However, facts do not require social agreement to establish its validity. It is NOT multi-subjectivity.

National Computing Studies Summit

From the website:

IT Teachers Summit: Open Learning Approaches to Computing Studies
Date: 4th - 5th October 2007
Venue: Australian Science & Mathematics School (ASMS) and online from wherever teachers are located.
To register visit:

Summit goals
- Identify educators who are working is distance education / open learning activities in Computing Studies and person(s) from other disciplines who have had success in alternative program models or who are experts at online and open learning pedagogies.

- Identify, analyse and share models for open learning which best suit teaching and learning which best suit teaching and learning in senior secondary Computer Studies.

- Establish and support open learning communities by identifying schools and teachers that are interested in promoting exemplary practice in open learning in senior secondary Computing Studies.

- Assist SiMERR to identify research and project opportunities.

- Provide a focus for the activities of CEGs on Computer Studies in rural and regional areas.

- Share and learn from the experiences of the state and territory projects.

- Develop recommendations about the future of open learning in Computing Studies and the role of CEGs.

Going to school in the "entertainment park" way

The original title is "Kids ride a zip line to go to school".

Basically, the kids bring their own pulleys and a fork from a tree (as brakes) to "slide" down a steel wire 1200 feet above the gorge. WOW!

Blog games

At EnRole blog, we have been playing an edublog game for the last few weeks.

EduBlog game is a game played in a BLOG environment for educational purposes.

The whole process (flow) can be read from the URL linked to this post's title.

The final result was in. I like the long list of verbs:
absorbing, asking, blending, cruising, connecting, considering, constructing, conversing, discussing, experiencing, fantasising, interacting, networking, participating, posting, reading, reflecting, thinking and sharing.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

ePaper & other technology

I have great hope of ePaper and similar technology to one day really support "paperless" office. I know how much I like to read from a book instead of a monitor. Among the reasons that reading from book is better are:
1. more comfortable reading. Paper uses reflective light verses monitor's emitting flashing light.
2. no energy is consumed while reading whereas monitors continue to consume energy even when the information on the screen is not changing.
3. form-factor. Books are so much lighter and friendly.
.... [and the list can continue]

Then comes ePaper, a promise of flexible, reflective, non-energy consuming when not changing content technology. There are two basic versions of ePaper, [from wikipedia]

Electronic paper was first developed in the 1970s by Nick Sheridon at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. The first electronic paper, called Gyricon, consisted of polyethylene spheres between 20 and 100 micrometres across. Each sphere is composed of negatively charged black plastic on one side and positively charged white plastic on the other (each bead is thus a dipole[1]). The spheres are embedded in a transparent silicone sheet, with each sphere suspended in a bubble of oil so that they can rotate freely. The polarity of the voltage applied to each pair of electrodes then determines whether the white or black side is face-up, thus giving the pixel a white or black appearance.[2]

In the 1990s another type of electronic paper was invented by Joseph Jacobson, who later co-founded the corporation E Ink which formed a partnership with Philips Components two years later to develop and market the technology. In 2005, Philips sold the electronic paper business as well as its related patents to Prime View International. This used tiny microcapsules filled with electrically charged white particles suspended in a colored oil.[3] In early versions, the underlying circuitry controls whether the white particles were at the top of the capsule (so it looked white to the viewer) or at the bottom of the capsule (so the viewer saw the color of the oil). This was essentially a reintroduction of the well-known electrophoretic display technology, but the use of microcapsules allowed the display to be used on flexible plastic sheets instead of glass.

One of the limitation of ePaper is that it is monochromatic, ie single colour.

This is now changed. According to this website, they have come up with a method to display full spectrum of colour (not by mixing the three primary colours). This is an exciting news.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Google launches embeddable map feature

Two features of Google Map will definitely be used by innovative teachers once how to use them become available.

1. Embed maps directly into web pages, like youTube videos, by copy and paste a snippet of HTML.

To do this

1. Navigate to the location you want to show on Google Map.
2. On the top right corner of the map, there is a [link to this page]. Click it to get a sniplet of HTML.
3. Copy and paste to your web page

Here is an example, the area I live in:

View Larger Map

2. My Map which allow users to define areas, add text or links.
[More on this when I have time.]

Monday, 20 August 2007

Learning Chinese R/W way - Lesson 14

I came across this today.

This is one of the more difficult sentence to translate. First a little background of the source: According to Joseph Yu

Su Dong Po 蘇東坡 (a famous scholar in the Song 宋 Dynasty) came from a scholarly family. His father and his brother were also great scholars. One day, someone asked him the secret to pass examination to have academic achievement (考取功名). He (probably jokingly) said:


In this sentence, you can see the first 5 numbers: 一二三四五. So you know this is a list. Using Joseph Yu's translation, it is
(1) Destiny
(2) Cycle
(3) Feng Shui
(4) Accumulation of hidden virtuous deeds
(5) Study books

The first three are difficult to change, the last two are something we can work hard on. That basically sums up my philosophy of life.

In the 5 elements, 命 belongs to 土 (earth),運 belongs to 金 (metal),風水 belongs to 水(water),陰德 belongs to 木(wood). What is missing here is 火 (fire).

We belief that the 5 elements are inter-related. In order to change, we can accummulate more "virtuous deeds". We can also study. Wood and Fire reinforces each other and can change the rest.

I think the best translation may be "Opportunities present themselves only to those who are prepared".

Thursday, 16 August 2007

More Pixel Art

Mr. Wong's tallest virtual building:

Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Dumbed down instruction

I believe dumbed down instruction is one of the major misconception of teaching.

One of the success factor of the "Harry Potter" series is the J K Rowling do NOT dumbed down the language. She writes for an intelligent reader. Children love it!

Scarfolding provides support for intelligent and capable learners who are new to a discipline. Dumbed down implies the learner is lesser in ability. Scarfolding is not "dumbed down".

Stephen Downes wrote

as the (adult) readers alternate between being impressed by the review and not believing that a 12-year old wrote it.

This shows that a lot of people think that children are of a lesser ability - which, as Stephen correctly pointed out, is unjustified. "It's worth remarking (again) that children today spend their days reading and writing on the internet. So a literate review from a 12-year old should not be a surprise."

Sunday, 12 August 2007

Speed Listening

Many modern media players can increase the speed of audio without distorting the pitch. My mp4 player (generic brand, ie no brand name) can change the tempo which is the same as increasing the play back speed. Window Media player can do the same according to Steve Pavlina

click the arrow below “Now Playing.” Then click Enhancements -> Show Play Speed Settings. This will bring up the speed controls that enable you to increase the speed of any files you’re playing.

When I am listening to podcast, I usually increase the tempo of my little mp4 to +5 which I can still fully comprehend the podcast.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

Reasonable agreement

READ CAREFULLY. By [accepting this material|accepting this payment|accepting this business-card|viewing this t-shirt|reading this sticker] you agree, on behalf of your employer, to release me from all obligations and waivers arising from any and all NON-NEGOTIATED agreements, licenses, terms-of-service, shrinkwrap, clickwrap, browsewrap, confidentiality, non-disclosure, non-compete and acceptable use policies (”BOGUS AGREEMENTS”) that I have entered into with your employer, its partners, licensors, agents and assigns, in perpetuity, without prejudice to my ongoing rights and privileges. You further represent that you have the authority to release me from any BOGUS AGREEMENTS on behalf of your employer.

Rubik's cube portrait

Summer vacation in the northern hemisphere still havs plenty left to do some interesting project. If you like challenge, here is a good one.

Choose a person (or object) which you like, convert into low resolution and in six colours. Assemble the picture using Rubik's cubes. Sound difficult? Here is an example.

from The Colbert Cubes

Friday, 10 August 2007

Pixel Art and Vexel Art

Pixel Art:

How to:

An awesome 100K by 100K artwork.
Few more examples:

Vexel Art:

From Wikipedia:

Vexel is a neologism and portmanteau for an entirely pixel-based raster form of digital art that imitates the vector graphics technique. The word derives from a combination of "vector" and "pixel" to distinguish them from normal vector graphics and normal raster images.



note: Quality of images has been reduced due to resizing to fit the layout. Click on the image to see the original.

Sunday, 5 August 2007


Once the leader of China said, "When a sneeze is multiplied by 1 billion times, it becomes a huge problem." So is the toilet problem.

CNN has a video (captured from CCTV) on this issue.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Lessons from Geese

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

How could God have allowed the tsunami?

Here is a talk recorded on Feb 2005 and was released in April 2007. Rev. Tom Honey gave a courageous talk.

Regular readers know that I side with Dawkins on the issue of God. I cannot help but wish that those who are religious were the thinkers that Honey is. [stealing directly from a comment made by Randy Sharp]

History repeats

Now, it is official, history repeats.

See the photos from here

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Change and Change management

This is another gem I dug up from Thiagi's website. The copyright notice said that I can reproduce up to 100 copies per year without asking for permission. So here I go for the first copy.

Quick Change

This opening activity works well for topics that deal with the challenges of change. It is adapted from an activity developed and used by Crestcom, a management and leadership development company.

To link the topic of change to something the participants already know
Time: 10 minutes
Participants: Any number

* Countdown timer
* Whistle


Ask participants to pair-up with a partner, and stand back to back.

Identify one partner as “A” and the other partner as “B”. For example “A” could be the person who has worked for the company the longest.


In the next 60 seconds, partners “A” please change 5 things about yourselves. Keep your back to partner “B” so that partner “B” can't see you.

When time is up, instruct partners to face each other.


Partner “B”, in the next 60 seconds, see if you can identify the 5 things that partner “A” changed.

Announce when time is up, congratulate the participants and instruct the partners to return to the back-to-back position.


In the next 60 seconds, partner “A” change 5 more things about yourself.

When time is up, instruct partners to face each other again.


Partner “B”, in the next 60 seconds, see if you can detect the 5 additional changes made by partner “A”.

Announce when time is up, congratulate the participants, then instruct the partners to return to the back-to-back position.


Partner “A”, please change 5 additional things about yourselves.

By this time, the participants usually start to groan and indicate that they do not want to participate any longer. Calm the participants, then ask them to return to their seats and begin the debrief.

To prevent participants from treating this activity as a mindless ice-breaker, conduct a debriefing discussion by using the following sets of questions in the specific sequence. Notice that each set of questions emphasizes an important learning point by looking back on the activity, relating it to the workplace, and brainstorming appropriate change-management strategies.

Change as removal

* When asked to make changes, how many of the “A's” removed items (such as belt or tie)? Why did most of you choose to remove things rather than add things?
* Is this how we often look at change? Do we assume that change means things are going to be taken away? What can we do to help emphasize the benefits of the change?

Too many, too fast

* How did you feel when I asked you to make changes the third time? I heard a lot of groaning. You weren't as enthusiastic as you were the first time.
* How does this relate to the workplace when we ask our employees to make too many changes too quickly?

Return to status quo

* Right now, how many of the “A's” have already changed back to how they were originally? This is interesting, because I didn't tell you to change back yet.
* Is that what happens in the workplace? Without continued support and direction from upper management, do employees tend to go back to doing things the same old way?
* How can we lead by example to prevent this from happening?

Word Scrambler


Our brian is vrey sarmt. Agoulthh tihs psot is wtrietn usnig sambrlced wodrs, I gseus you wluod hvae no poerlbm rniadeg this.

I did not do tihs by hnad. Tihs psot is dnoe by the Wrod Semraclbr.

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Understanding Gilmore's Law

by Mark Pesce


YouTube version:

Text version here.

I have complaint about how slow and expensive Australian networks are, especially from the big players. Mark explains how Telstra cannot stop the wheel of innovations and how it cannot hold back people's desire to get connected.

Once people are networked, the network cannot be removed!

ps Gilmore's law: “The net interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.
– John Gilmore

Become an Autodidact: 10 Ways to Become a Self Taught Master

If you equate knowing a lot of information or have read a number of books in an area as being a master in that area, the linked post gives you 10 places to start.

My advice to become a master in an area, get your hand dirty and starting trying out things a master in that area will do on a daily basis. Information is important BUT it is NOT all about information!

comments on "Boundary Characteristics" Draft

Stephen Downes comments

Article proposing a theoretical framework for understanding pedagogical games. I liked the division of four types of 'space': physical space, virtual space, augmented space, and imaginary space (one wonders what Kant would have said). The list of "Boundary Characteristics" (boundary conditions?) of games is also interesting, through probably incomplete. The idea of these boundary conditions is that they are range-like properties of a game that may have pedagogical implications. Take, for example, the 'permeability' of a game. Does outside wisdom and knowledge impact game performance, the way it does in Jeopardy (and not so much in checkers)? Do existing power structures impact game performance (the way, say, playing golf against your boss is different from playing golf against your best friend)? The article mostly just lists the concepts; some more explanation would have been useful. [my emphasis]

Thank you for the good analogy to explain the power permeability. :-)

Clickable Culture links for 2007-07-24
"Game environments may be constructed in any of the following [...]: Physical space... Virtual space... Augmented space... Imagined space..." Unfortunate conceit that 3D simulation is "real" whereas text is "imagined." No mention of 2D graphics at all.

I believe there are grounds for improvement for the paper. Tony Walsh must have read the paper in a hurry! 3D simulation is a simulation which models the real world. 3D simulation is of course NOT real. I don't think I wrote that.
2D graphical representation is a special case of virtual environment. The computer is providing all the visual information to help user/player to create the sense of space.
Space described by text (or another other means) which requires the user/player to fill in missing parts is referred to as "Imagined space" in the paper.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

What we can learn from spaghetti sauce

This is a talk Malcolm Gladwell gave in Feb 2004.

Watch this, but replace any words of food to learning.

The take away from this 17minutes video: There is no platonic plate for learning.

A Model Vertical Axis Wind Turbine - Build your own

A good school science project.

Boundary Characteristics of Game, Simulation, Drama & Role play Learning - Draft 2

comments welcome.

Boundary Characteristics of Game, Simulation, Drama & Role-play Learning Environments

by Albert Ip, Fablusi P/L

Elizabeth Rosser, UNSW Foundation Studies
Elyssebeth Leigh, Faculty of Education, UTS



Since computers first entered the educational arena the concept of 'games for learning'  become increasingly attractive to educators seeking to create engaging 'interactive' learning environments. The element of 'Play' as a conductor for learning is not new. Johan Huizinga1 in his 1938 book 'Homo Ludens', suggested 'Play' as being 'primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition of the generation of culture' and, as such, is a core learning mode for cultural transmission for all sentient beings. Education theorists (Dewey2 and *** etc) have also long since recognised the value of play, including it, via forms such as 'games', in environments for learning that seek to escape from static modes of 'education'.  Building on more than forty years of work in the use of games for learning, current researchers are demonstrating that everyone can learn something from games (see for example James Paul Gee2, Elyssebeth Leigh, etc.). Numerous articles have demonstrated ways to select, research, build, sell, deploy, and evaluate the right type of educational simulation for the right situation (see for example Dick Duke*, Clark Aldrich3, Jan Klabbers 3  and various issues of Simulation & Gaming*). While there is a continuing (often silently) passive resistance to the use of simulations and games for learning in formal environments this has not prevented such learning oriented institutions as the military and medical bodies from making extensive use of them for skill development, knowledge acquisiton and more recently exploration of affective learning goals. As John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade4 argue those who encounter learning via games glean valuable knowledge from their pastime and are well positioned to use that knowledge to transform their workplace. [er: I'm still hankering for the use of an all-encompassing term to cover the genre of games, simulation, role-play and drama - without the intro lacks cohesion. In our discussions Albert proposed that 'game' could capture this as the others may be seen as games by another name. Any thoughts?]

Ip [2006] while arguing against the [educational] potential of off-the-shelf (COTS) commercial games because of their close nature [er: close or closed Albert?], has identified two pedagogically important components of any game: the underlying simulator and the game goals. In the context of computer games, the in-game simulator is the mechanism through which responses to the actions taken by the players are generated.[er: what about multi-player computer games - responses are generated by both the simulator and other players] In role-play simulation and many other games (e.g. chess, football)[er: here we have again the assumption that role-play is a sub-set of the broad category of game - do we agree that it is?], however, the responses to players' actions are provided by other players.  Yet another category of games depends on the real world to provide the feedback, such as the feedback provided by .... in a game of golf.

Within a game, simulation, or role play, a set of artificial rules constrain the permissable behaviours of the players in-game AND provide an objective for players to achieve. That is, the game defines the criteria for determining game outcomes.  In particular, the game goals motivate players to use specific strategies and tactics in order to win a game. This GAME GOAL makes a game environment engaging and powerful.

When using a simulator, implicit role is assumed.[er: is implicit role assumed or role implicitly assumed?] For instance, a trainee using a flight simulator typically assumes the role of a pilot.  Simulations, with appropriately designed game goals, have served a key role in training military personnel, pilots etc.   The trainee pilot suspends their belief that this is a simulator and acts as if s/he is flying a real plane. Simulators thus provide critical learning opportunities for the trainee pilot to handle practice and demonstrate the skills necessary to fly a plane, including managing emergency conditions. This environment reduces risks associated with learning through on the job training, such as the risk of crashing operational aircraft.

Drama, 'process drama' in particular, likewise, requires the players to temporarily supend reality and immerse themselves into the set to play out the roles as specified by the script. O'Toole has demonstrated that such experiences can be very effective in coping with and reducing bullying in schools [O'Toole et el, 2005]. 

Text-based role-play simulations, such as the Middle East Political Science role play simulations [Vincent & Shepherd, 1994], are basically imagined reality.  Players assume the role of politicians and respond to scenarios set 3 weeks into the real-time future. Such imagined reality can be as vivid as any real physical encounter, as evidenced by student descriptions of their experiences. In an end-of-course evaluation of "the Scarlet Letter" role play simulation run at Caldwell Community College, North Carolina, USA in 2005 one student stated:"I felt as though I was living in Boston [...], walking the streets with the Wilsons, the Hathornes, and Mistress Hibbins". Another student wrote in the same course: "I wasn't just reading the story, I was the story and I could change the plot however I wanted to".

There are several common elements connecting all of the above learning strategies of games, simulations, role play and drama.  In this paper, we focus on two:
The learners (players) are required to
  • dis-regard reality temporarily thereby entering a state in which disbelief is suspended for the duration of the play state
  • act within and respond to a set of rules arbitrarily set up to define and maintain the game environment.

Many teachers/facilitators have recognised the existence of an "environment" [er:what are you trying to signify with the term environment? it seems obvious that there is an environment] while using these techniques. Frequently, and correctly, teachers and facilitators put great emphasis on the rituals in entering and existing such an environment.  For simplicity, in the following we shall refer to this game, simulation, drama & role play environment simply as "game environment".  This choice of terminology does not imply that we play more attention to game than the other three strategies.[er: I would like to see this stated at the outset of the paper]

This paper provides a theoretical analysis of the boundary characteristics of the game environment based on the teaching/learning experience of the authors.  We hope this paper can initiate a more detailed study of the use of such environments.

Different types of game space

Game environments may be constructed in any of the following types of spaces or combination of these spaces:

Physical space
This is where our carbon-based life form lives. This is kind of fundamental. Without an existence in Physical Reality, we cannot have existence in the other realities discussed below. Many games, such as football, tennis, golf, paint-ball military games are played in a physical environment. 

A classroom, laboratory, lecture theatre and observatory are examples of physical spaces used for teaching and learning.  Students in such physical spaces typically behave consistently with imposed physical reality required by socially constructed norms.  For example, in a lecture theatre most participants will assume the role of listener and sit quietly while one or two participants take on the role of information source in delivering a lecture.

It should be noted that a physical space ceases to be a game environment when the rules of the game are removed.  For a example, a football field is just a field. Indeed, it is often the case that different activities may be conducted on the physical space as the football game is played.  The football field only becomes a football game field when the people on the field agree to be bound by the rules of the football code and act accordingly.

Virtual space
This is the 3-dimensional world (space) computer generates. In a typical immersive mode, participants put on head-mount gear, wear some form of sensor-enabled clothing and walk in a VirtuSphere. Alternately, in the "token-immersive" mode, the player can control an avatar in the virtual space. In both cases, the interactions with the environment, including all game artifacts, are generated and controlled by a computer. Many computer games, including first person shooter games, and Second Life belong to the latter in this group. 

Some high-fidelity environments (immersive mode) are used for military training.  Flight simulator belongs to the immersive mode too. Second Life has increasingly been hyped as a potentially powerful space for teaching and learning. 

Augmented space
From Wikipedia, Augmented reality [snip] deals with the combination of real world and computer generated data. At present, most AR research is concerned with the use of live video imagery which is digitally processed and "augmented" by the addition of computer generated graphics. Advanced research includes the use of motion tracking data, fiducial marker recognition using machine vision, and the construction of controlled environments containing any number of sensors and actuators. Again, there are two sub groups here. Physical Reality augmented with virtual artifacts, such as Hear&There5 or Magic Eye6. Virtual Reality augmented with virtual artifacts such as Berlin in 3D for Google Earth or Las Vegas 3D Buildings. Historical events link to Google Earth, such as World War Two Google Earth "Famous WW2 Battlefields Today", part 1 and 2. Last, but not the least, Google street view where physical space's photos are used to augment virtual space.  Some uses of augmented reality in teaching and learning are:

  • Arts Center of Christchurch New Zealand (
  • MagicBook where it is a book just like any other, complete with a story written on pages that could be read without the help of AR technology. However, the pages also contained virtual animated figures, which once viewed with a heads-up display would act out the story in 3D space above the pages. (
  • "Augmented Reality" simulations by MIT (
  • Handheld Augmented Reality Project (
  • others such as,

Imagined space
The imagined space has long been recognised as a powerful environment for learning. In this space, the visualisation of the environment, its artifacts and characters an occurs solely in our brain with hints supplied from stimulus, for example, text.  When there are gaps in the description, our brain will attempt to fill in the missing parts.  For example, when reading a novel the imagination of the reader acts on the author's description to construct the novel space in which the story is played out. Consider the vividness of the scenery and characters we imagine when reading such novels as Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Game Environment and Game Space

Many games exist in the physical space. The advent of the computer leads to the development of computer games.  Chess is a ....

Boundary Characteristics of Game Environments

The game boundary defines the separation between the game environment and the real world environment.That is, it binds the game rules and action to the game space. The following properties do not absolutely have to be apparent in every game environment.  Rather, we are only trying to highlight boundary characteristics that may have pedagogical implications. The properties can fall within a range (most likely to be a continuum) with different games may fitting into different point of the continuum. The characteristics of the boundaries between the real world and the game world can be understood as variables along a continuum. The degree to which each is apparant in particular types of games and in specific game environments impacts on the quality and outcomes of player experiences. Thus, these boundary characteristics need to be considered when designing and implementing games for learning. The same game may be implemented in quite different ways due to the manner in which these boundaries are established and maintained. 


The permeability of the boundary refers to the extent to which the boundary permits factors and influences from the real world to enter the game world. If the boundary is impermeable it would be resistant to external influences flowing into the game space. In contrast, a boundary with high permeability suggest a vulnerability to external influence. Permeability is a dual-edged sword as this property allows contamination of the game, but also facilitates the transfer of knowledge, skills and attitudes developed within the game environment to contexts in the 'real' world.

Information and Experience: Football players spent a lot of time training in a non-game environment in order to improve their performance during game.  Likewise, experience and information gathered within the game environment can be used outside of the game environment.  This is the basis of our assumption that game environment can be used as pedagogical environment to help students learn.  In other words, the game environment boundary is permeable to information and knowledge.

Power: The game environment does not exist in isolation.  In the context of formal education and learning the game environment is mostly situated within an "institutional space".  In some instances institutional representatives will interfere with the in-character game environment thereby acting to allow the real world to permeate the game world. In such a situation, there is a risk of contamination by power from the external environment which may have tremendous impact on outcomes within the game environment. 
Permeability to external power is apparent whenever interactions and task performance of players within the game are subject to formal assessment. Players are inclined in such situations to be conscious that their play is subject to scrutiny by a power figure external to the game action and of the assessment value of particular strategies. The course of action players might pursue is thus influenced by the permeability of the game boundary to the inherent power exerted by the assessor.


Where the boundary starts and where it ends is sometimes very difficult to distinguish.  For example in a game of chess, if the players can hear the commentary of the game, the outcome will definitely be influenced.  It has been reported many times that when fans cheer a player in a competition this impacts on the performance of the competitor.   Are the commentators or the fans in-game or out-of-game?  If the game rules of a chess match allows on-lookers to make suggestions to the players, how would that change the game?  Is this the same game as a chess game where any suggestions/comments are strictly blocked? An example of this in the case of online role play simulation is the fuzziness between the 'real' world dispute over the development of the pulp and paper industry in South America and the 'game' world dispute in the BIG Paper b-Sim
Participants report difficulty in separating the real world events and characters from those of the game world.
Preliminary indicators suggest that this may similarly be an issue within the emerging Second Life environment


Even in situations where the boundary is well-defined it is not necessarily the same thickness. At some points in the game the boundary may be thinner or thicker. That is, the degree to which the game environment is understood as distinct from the 'real' world environment is variable. Typically, during the briefing stage of a game, the boundary is quite thin. As the game space is defined and the rules established the boundary may thicken. However, it is our contention that the weight of the boundary is subjective rather than objective such that one player may experience a significant buffer between the real and game worlds whereas a compatriot at the same point in the game may experience a much thinner boundary.


Flexibility refers to the capacity of the game boundary to respond to internal and external pressure. For example, the ability of the game environment to accommodate changes to the game rules while action is in play. The more flexible the boundary, the easier it will be to introduce 'on the fly' modifications to the game environment, perhaps to reflect changes within the parallel 'real' world outside the game. For instance, as the scenario for the Middle East Politics simulation (Vincent and Shepherd, op cit) is set only 3 weeks into the future, it is possible that 'real' world parameters governing the scenario may change rendering the game environment less relevant. For example, the death of a key character in the role play or the outbreak of war. A flexible boundary will allow the game environment to be changed, either explicitly or implicitly to reflect 'real' world changes. In contrast, an inflexible boundary quarantines the game environment so that it remains untouched by such external pressures. Boundaries can be seen to be flexible in different ways and the following is an attempt to unpack these differences.

Plasticity: We have borrowed the concept of plasticity from neuroscience to denote a boundary that is able to undergo organisational change as a result of experience.  Adaptive plasticity means that the boundary is able to change in response to new information and dynamics either within or outside the game environment resulting in changes that may be translated to later iterations of the game.

Elasticity: While elasticity is a component of flexibility, it relates specifically to the ability of the game environment to accommodate changes in the number of players at the start of the game. The more elastic the boundary is the more it can stretch or shrink to match the number of players enrolled to participate. In a broader context this is often referred to as scalability.

Fluidity: Fluidity refers to the ability of the game to accommodate changing numbers of players once play has commenced. Can the game continue with integrity if a player is introduced into the game, or withdrawn from the game whilst play is in action?

Use of Props

Most games require some form of artifact to facilitate action. Obviously a game of football cannot occur in any recognisable form without a football. That is, the ball is an essential prop for a game of football.  There are games which require no additional pops such as the familiar children game of hide-and-seek. Chess is an interesting case.  Some players are able to play chess without any help of chess pieces. The entire game is imagined.


Football is a contact sport where injuries to players are common. In a game of chess, the action of the players are manifested by movement of chess pieces which may be captured (or killed).  However, such capture or killing does not incur physical harm to the players.  Tokenisation refers to how the players' actions are manifested in the game world, whether it is manifested physically by the players' presence or via a token such as an avatar.

Pedagogical Implications

Learning through games, simulator, drama and role playing is way of learning which depends very much on the learner.  As James Paul Gee puts it,
there are two ways to play a game [of Grand Theft Auto III ], you can play proactively and strategically or just become a good button-masher.  If you want to be strategic¡Xboth in terms of the decisions you make and the ways you solve problems¡XGrand Theft Auto III is subtle and amazing.  I found the gang fights distasteful, so I just didn¡¦t trigger them.  I went out of my way to see how little damage I could do while still earning my living through crime.  Such choices make the game partly mine and not just the designer¡¦s.  Games allow you to accept a given assumption (I have to earn a living through crime) and then see how you personally would think, feel, and act.

In situation such as this, we obviously do not want the violent criminal behaviour to be learnt and transferred to real life.  We don't want to train highly effective criminals, do we?  We would like to manipulate the game so that the transfer of knowledge, skill and experience (Permeability) are those of desirable ones.  Playing becomes an excuse for debriefing.  For this type of game, the debriefing helps to correct the short-coming of permeability of the game environment.

For flight simulator, the skill to land a plane in emergency situation is the learning outcome.  We would seek to ensure that the transfer of knowledge and skill is directly from the game environment and real life.  The type of debrief is obviously different from those using Grand Theft Auto.

It is important to remember that the game environment is embedded within a larger institutional space (game, simulation, drama and/role playing as prescribed as part of a course), the institution representative (teacher/facilitator) has immerse power over the students.  This power can permeate into the game environment easily.  When a teacher/facilitator gives in-game suggestions, they can be easily interpreted as instruction to take a certain approach, denying the player the freedom to make choices.  This can also seriously minimise the ownership of the game/role by the players.  The same, may be to a lesser degree, be said about the powerful/friendship relationship among the players in the real world.  In order to avoid real-world relationship interfere with the game, we may insist that all players are played anonymously.

Game environments with great flexibility assist administrators in allocating students to the game environment when the student enrolment may change from term to term.  A flexible game environment would allow the teacher/facilitator to modify the storyline, game rules or other parameters so that when sudden unforeseen situation arises (such as a critical player is not able to continue due to illness), the game play can continue without impacting the learning outcome.

In online role play, one way of designing game environment to increase flexibility is to allow each role to be played by a team.  If a member of a team is unable to continue, the work can be taken up by the rest of the team.  Team size also allows more

James Paul Gee talks about "an actual biological effect. When you operate a game character, you are manipulating something at a distance (a virtual distance, in this case), much like operating a robot at a distance, but in a much more fine-grained way.  This makes humans feel that their bodies and minds have actually been expanded into or entered that distant space. "[] Tokenisation is a degree of protection from physical harm to the players by the game environment.


This paper presents a potential theoretical framework to understand and inform education designs for learning environments.

The use of game, simulator, drama and role playing implicitly implies the existence of an environment.  Learners enter and exist the environment by triggering suspension of disbelief and start observing the artificial rules imposed by the game environment.  However, the environment boundary is not clear cut.  Different design can result in environments displaying various properties as described in this paper.  Understanding the properties can lead to better adoption and adaptation of the design, administrating the learning and evaluating the effectiveness of the learning outcome.


1Huizinga, Johan. Homo Ludens. Beacon Press (June 1, 1971). ISBN-10: 0807046817
 See for example Begona Gros, (July 2003) The Impact of digital games in education,

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 "Hear&There" ( allows people to virtually drop sounds at any location in the real world. Once one of these "SoundSpots" has been created, an individual using the Hear&There system will be able to hear it. We envision these sounds being recordings of personal thoughts or anecdotes, and music or other sounds that are associated with a given area.
6 "Magic Eye" ( lets the user see the real world around him and augment the user's view of the real world by overlaying or composing three-dimensional virtual objects with their real world counterparts. Ideally, it would seem to the user that the virtual and real objects coexisted.

Ip, A, 2006, Why Most Off the Shelf Commerical Games Will Not Work in Education? And What Is The Alternative?
O'Toole, J; Burton, B and Plunkett, A, 2005, Cooling Conflict Pearson Longman, Australia