Thursday, 22 May 2008

A4 e-ink reader

I have been waiting for this.
[image from Engedget]

it seems that I still have to wait, hopefully not for too long.

Songs with Science Themes by Prof. Alan Marscher

Music to liven up lectures? Yes, it is exactly that.

The title links to more Science-themed songs by Prof. Alan Marscher

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Teen Helps Design Classroom DNA Experiments Using Common Food Dyes

ScienceDaily (May 14, 2008) — Agarose gel electrophoresis? Most teenagers wouldn't have a clue what this scientific term means, but middle school student Andrew Trigiano knows the protocol inside and out. When Andrew was 12, his father Robert Trigiano, a professor at the University of Tennessee, was looking for an interesting science project for his son. Setting out to compare differences in popular brands of Easter egg dyes, Trigiano's project soon grew into a full-blown scientific study and set of replicable classroom experiments.

And the Teacher guide is here

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Is OLPC about learning? Apparently Not.

From ZDNet

Christopher Dawson reports that Ivan Krstić has an angry rant about OLPC, especially about running Windows on XO.

What strikes me is the following quote:

In fact, I quit when Nicholas told me — and not just me — that learning was never part of the mission. The mission was, in his mind, always getting as many laptops as possible out there…

I agree. So far, I have not seen any spectacular education/learning software developed on XO yet. (Correct me if I am wrong and point me some examples if you can.)

Christopher is right that no matter what has happened, XO has started an industrial wide for low cost market.

Ripples' Model

By Phil Race

I think these four 2-part questions that Phil has asked a lot of people are very inspiring. To get the most out of it, please type in your answer in the input boxes below (they will not be sent anywhere, just there to give you a place to jot down your answers.) You can then see the answers from most people by highlighting the blank space between the questions.

1. Think of something that you're good at, something that you know you do well.
How did you become good at it? Write a few words below.

trial and error
having a go

2. Think of something about yourself that you feel good about.
How you can tell that you feel good about this? What's your evidence to support this feeling? Write a few words below.

other people's reactions
gaining confidence
seeing the results

3. Think of something that you're not good at, perhaps as a result of a bad learning experience.
What went wrong, and whose (if anyone's) fault it may have been? Write a few words below.

did not really want to learn it
could not see the point
bad teaching
could not make sense of it

4. Think of something that you did learn successfully, but at the time you didn¡¦t want to learn it.
What kept you going, so that you did indeed succeed in learning it? Write a few words below.

strong support and encouragement
did not want to be seen not able to do it
needed to do it for what I wanted next

How are you doing? What is/are the messange(s) in these four questions? Get the rest from the powerpoint linked to this post's title.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

New Orleans, New Education System

New York Times reported a slight increase in the state promotional exam (12%) despite the still under-performance as a whole (60 percent of high school students got an unsatisfactory ranking in standardized English and math tests, a figure three to four times higher than the percentage throughout Louisiana).

What happened was that after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the destruction

had offered, in a state official’s words, a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvent public education.” In due course, that opportunity was taken:...Stripped of most of its domain and financing, the Orleans Parish School Board fired all 7,500 of its teachers and support staff, effectively breaking the teachers’ union. And the Bush administration stepped in with millions of dollars for the expansion of charter schools—publicly financed but independently run schools that answer to their own boards. The result was the fastest makeover of an urban school system in American history.

If that millions of dollars were put into the old system, would it produce the same "improvement"?

A "new" model of boardcasting, a new model of learning

The PBS Car of the Future program has a new format.

1. The material is "open" (Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0) meaning that they encourage users to remix the material.
2. Some of their content is contributed from audience.
3. The content also comes with a teacher guide which is very much in the old fashion way, (e.g. explains how petroleum is turned into gasoline). There is always a restriction that the program "can be used up to one year after program is recorded off the air."

Since this is open content, I suggest it would be much more educational if students are asked to add to and mix the content. Different group of students will tackle the problem from different angle. The web site already provides a very good example (the audio slide show of model of efficiency)

Monday, 12 May 2008

Call for Papers League of Worlds October 2008 Hong Kong

The International Conference on Exploring Virtuality

5th Annual Colloquium on Online Simulations, Role-playing, and Virtual Worlds

October 13-17, 2008
Hong Kong University
Hong Kong

Future worlds: Virtual worlds today and tomorrow

Call for Papers

About the League of Worlds
The League of Worlds (LoW) annual colloquium brings together people engaged in the creation of virtual worlds and real-time simulations for educational and training purposes. Our mission is (1) to stimulate and disseminate research and analysis regarding the theoretical, technical, and curricular developments in; and (2) to contribute towards the development of coherent frameworks for the advancement, application and assessment of educational and social uses of role-playing, simulations, and virtual worlds. Our primary areas of interest include:
  • Theoretical analysis
  • The development of practical applications
  • The documentation of framework projects and case studies.
LoW5 Theme
"Future worlds: Virtual worlds today and tomorrow."

Hundreds of virtual worlds exist to serve youth, educational, and corporate markets, yet few offer anything more than a glimpse of how technological innovations such as virtual worlds may lead to new forms, methods, and modes of communication, collaboration, and creation. We are experiencing unprecedented growth in the funding and development of virtual worlds, but toward what purpose?
This year, we will consider the opportunities and challenges the proliferation of virtual worlds offer today, and contemplate what they hold for tomorrow. In many ways, the future of virtual worlds depends on how early adopters decide to use them to advance and to extend their organizational mission. But what factors will influence which platforms and worlds survive and which ones do not?

About the colloquium
The League of Worlds colloquium is not an ordinary conference.

The League of Worlds brings together creators of virtual worlds and real-time simulations for educational, artistic, and creative purposes. Participants share a passionate interest in advancing theory and praxis in creative, educational, and cultural contexts. The League of Worlds is committed to exploring complex, networked social spaces, such as Second Life, Croquet, Metaverse, Fablusi, Active Worlds and other simulation and/or role-playing platforms, as they relate to questions of virtuality vs. reality, identity construction in new media technologies, and other key questions. In particular, we invite research into framework projects and case studies and strongly encourage exploration with pedagogical or other practical applications. Both creative and technical studies are welcome.
Participants are expected to challenge one another to take a fresh look at the questions
that arise when people meet in virtual territories to play, to learn, and to share. Participation is purposely
limited and there will be no concurrent sessions. Instead, participants will engage in an ongoing dialogue about
virtual environments, integrating their own perspectives and expertise into the

Proposal categories
The League of Worlds colloquium is designed to support sharing and meaningful
reflection. Participants should allow one another the opportunity to share experiences,
to demonstrate technologies, and to think critically. To facilitate these activities, the
colloquium review committee is interested in submissions on the following topics:

  • Technologies used to create and manage
    virtual environments (tools, hardware, software)
  • Vision for what virtual environments
    could be (architecture, metaphors)
  • Teaching and Learning in virtual
    • Role playing and simulations
    • Social constructivism
    • Communication and collaboration
    • Serendipitous interactions and
  • Community formation in virtual
    environments (interaction, presentation of self, presence)
  • Culture (development of, artefacts)
  • Administrative/technical support issues in virtual environments
  • Change (Advocacy for, dissemination and
    sharing of research, how change takes place)
  • Resources (to create and/or support any
    of the above themes)
  • Research (on virtual environments in
    general or in support of any of the above themes)

Paper submissions

The colloquium review committee requests that paper submissions address the following:
  • Summary of what you are doing with
    virtual environments and how it relates to one of the above themes (including
    description of practice and relevant research)
  • Explanation of how this summary can
    contribute to the dialogue theme planned for the colloquium.

Paper submissions are double blind peer-reviewed. All accepted papers, the colloquium
program, and a list of attendees will be published on the colloquium website.
Papers should be between 2500-5000 words (4-8 pages).

Important Dates

Paper submission - summary and explanation
July 20, 2008
Notification of Acceptance
July 29, 2008
1st Draft Due
August 20, 2008
Registration Deadline
September 5, 2008
Final Draft Due
September 5, 2008
October 13-17, 2008

Accepted presentations will be required to submit the following by September 5, 2008:
  1. Registration for the colloquium
  2. An indication of any special
    requirements related to diets, equipment, or other pertinent needs
  3. Participant information, including:
          • Names of submission author and
            co-authors, if applicable
          • Contact information for each
          • Affiliated institution(s)
          • Job title(s)
          • Brief description of experience with
            virtual worlds, simulations, and/or role playing technology

Submit all proposals in Word, RTF, PDF or HTML format to:
Dr. Stephen Bronack at

Please refer to the League of Worlds website for information regarding fees,
facilities, and accommodations:

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Glass Harp

Music using wine glasses

Glass amonica (a banned musical instrument, see wikipedia)

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Vic teachers pay dispute resolved

Teachers in Victoria, Australia were the lowest paid teachers in this country. Finally, they get the raise they deserve - only after 14 months of struggle.

I wonder whose responsibility is it for educating the next generation?

Is It Right That the U.S. Government Spends More on the Digital TV Switch Than Literacy Education?

This is a title of a post on Gizmodo, a gadget blog.

I am just being nosy. It is USA education and I am just an Australian. I should not care less.

Anyway, from Gizmodo (the post itself quoted below because I cannot write it any better, my emphasis):

To be honest, I can't say that I am surprised to hear that the government has allocated $1.5 billion to inform 17 million citizens about the digital TV transition. After all, those uninformed few would undoubtedly take up arms if they missed out on sports broadcasts and NBC's Thursday lineup. However, I was a little surprised to hear that the total proposed budged for literacy education in 2009 stands at a paltry $574.6 million. Once again it seems that our government does not have its priorities in order. That having been said, does this represent a proper allocation of taxpayer money in your opinion? How does broadband access fit into the mix?

Howeever, there is a good news in this. If blogger at Gizmodo questions this, there must be more people having the same question. USA may improve when all citizens demand that.

BTW, it is a poll at Gozmode. Cast your vote and you will see how Gizomodo's readers responded. There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Friday, 2 May 2008

Role play, game, simulation

Role Play
A little girl pretending to be the mother

Role Play Game
World of Warcraft

Role Play Simulation
Drama (play acting using scripts)

Landing a plane in bad weather in a flight simulator

Role play simulation game
Political science role play simulation which objectives for different roles to achieve

Thursday, 1 May 2008

On-line Games, Simulations & Role-plays as Learning Environments: Boundary and Role Characteristics

Last July, I posted a paper (draft) on Boundary Characteristics of Game, Simulation, Drama & Role-play Learning Environments. With the help of Roni Linser, it has been updated. The following is the latest draft.

On-line Games, Simulations & Role-plays as Learning Environments: Boundary and Role Characteristics


As the arsenal for instructional design strategies increasingly grows to include online games, simulations and role-plays there is an increased need to understand the practical and theoretical issues that are involved in the use of such environments. In this paper, we focus on the boundary characteristics that separate reality from the game space and the consequences of these characteristics to the triad of learner/player/role – a critical intersection between game space and reality.

It is often both argued and assumed that the spaces provided by games, simulations and role-playing, for convenience here called ‘game-type’ environments, are separate from the reality that intersects them. The argument is that these ‘game-type’ environments are artificially created in which players facing adversity and governed by specific game-rules, attempt to reach quantifiable outcomes. (Sales & Zimmerman 2003) While this may be a useful way to understand digital computer and video games in the context of entertainment, it is less than clear whether this separation is as clear-cut for, or applicable to, games generally and ‘game-type’ environments like role-playing games (RPG) and role-play simulation games (RPSG) in particular. Moreover, and as the paper argues, the ‘permeability’ of the boundary between reality and game space is a critical feature of online games, simulations and role-plays with pedagogical intent. Because different game designs result in environments displaying various game-boundary characteristics, understanding these characteristics can lead to better adoption and adaptation of ‘game-type’ learning environments design, as well as better strategies for evaluating the effectiveness of specific ‘game type’ environments in meeting learning outcomes.

Game environments intended for pedagogical objectives are not only inseparable from reality but intersect it in ways that are immensely useful in enabling deep learning. The paper highlights some of the theoretical and practical issues surrounding the boundary characteristics of such environments based on the teaching/learning experience of the authors focusing on two questions:

 How does reality intersect with these ‘game-type’ ‘virtual’ learning environments?
 How do the boundaries that define and maintain particular ‘game-type’ learning environments impact on the learner/player/role triad and hence on the learning process?

Since computers first entered the educational arena the concept of ‘games for learning’ has become increasingly attractive to educators seeking to create engaging 'interactive' learning environments. The element of ‘play’ as a conduit for learning is clearly not new. Johan Huizinga in his 1938 book Homo Ludens, suggested that ‘play’ was primary to and a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for the generation of culture and as such, is a core-learning mode for cultural transmission for all sentient beings. (Huizinga, 1971)

Education theorists like Dewey (1944), social psychologists like Mead (1934) and psychologists like Winnicott (1980) have all recognized the importance and value of play for learning. ‘Game-type’ environments are of course a more organized form of play. Still, building on more than forty years of work in the use of games for learning, researchers are clearly arguing and demonstrating that everyone can learn something from games (Gee 2003; Gros 2003; Beck & Wade; 2004). Numerous articles have demonstrated ways to select, research, build, sell, deploy, and evaluate the right type of educational games for the right situation (Prensky, 2001; Aldrich, 2004; 2005). While there is a continuing (often silently) passive resistance to the use of ‘game-type’ environments for learning in formal educational contexts this has not prevented learning oriented institutions as military academies, medical bodies, and training institutions from making extensive use of them for skill development, knowledge acquisition and more recently exploration of affective learning goals.

The question is therefore not whether ‘game-type’ environments are useful, but rather the criterion by which to evaluate their utility to meet specific learning outcomes - how to chose between different ‘game-type’ environments to not only meet but also best suit particular learning outcomes? Given the variety of games, simulations and role-playing games in the market, this is not a simple question.

Understanding the constraints and implication that different game spaces produce as learning spaces, or as a strategy to meet learning objectives may be useful for educators who need to answer that question. To do so we must first outline the types of game spaces available to educators.

Types of game space

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

Physical space

Physical space, and for convenience sake to take the common sense notion of it in order not to delve into the worlds of theoretical physics and metaphysics, is the 3D+Time environment that people perceive for practical purposes as the one they inhabit, act in and upon, change, etc. It is the here and now in which we eat and breathe, the one we sense with our five senses – perhaps more. A football or tennis arena like Wembley Stadium or the Wimbledon center court, or the local golf course, the paint-ball rooms in amusement parks or the kitchen table playing solitaire, the board-game and many others in-door and out-door spaces, both those specifically designed for the purpose of playing a game or used in an ad hoc fashion, are all physical spaces of games. A classroom, laboratory, lecture theatre and observatory are examples of traditional physical spaces used for teaching and learning. In all of them the laws of physics are applicable regardless of the social use to which they apply.

People in physical spaces typically behave consistently with socially constructed rules and norms associated with such physical space. They do so both in game spaces mentioned above and in educational spaces. However, unlike the laws of physics, these socially constructed norms and rules are continuously maintained, contested, negotiated and changed in the social dynamics of interaction. For example, in a lecture theatre most participants will assume the role of "listener" and sit quietly while one or two participants who take on the role of "speaker" that will deliver a "lecture". However a couple of participants may also start up a conversation, perhaps interrupting the speaker, which may contest the prevalent norm, upon which negotiating the rules appropriate to the space ensues. A football field is associated with a football game when there is general consensus by players to be bound by the rules of being on a football field and act accordingly since the same physical space can also be used as a baseball field with alterations to the white marked boundary lines.

Virtual space

Virtual space commonly refers to computer-generated games and simulations created as two or three-dimensional environments that allow a participant to experience and interact with a setting or situation within these environments. In typical ‘immersion’ mode, participants put on head-mount gear, glasses, wear some form of sensor-enabled clothing and walk in a ‘VirtuSphere’ (Christensen, 2005). Alternately, in the ‘token’ mode, players in a game control an Avatar (Website 1) through which they interact with the virtual environment they inhabit. In both cases, the interactions with the environment, including all game artifacts, are generated and controlled by a computer. Highly sophisticated ‘immersion’ mode flight, tank and naval simulations used for training by modern armies or the graphic complexity of fantasy environments like Grand Auto Theft, World of Warcraft or Myst in the entertainment industry are typical of such spaces at the high fidelity spectrum. Less complex graphically, at lower fidelity but still in ‘token’ mode, are games like Civilization or Age of Empires. Both the Sims and Second Life, which have been increasingly presented as a potentially powerful spaces for teaching and learning, belongs to ‘the token’ mode. Second Life is of higher fidelity than the Sims. Though in essence both are virtual environments, Second Life and the Sims are not exactly games as such in the traditional definition (Sales and Zimmerman 2003), and are closer to simulations of hypothetical environments that are used to play – but necessarily games.

Whether such virtual spaces simulate real world physics or imaginary physics the activity of users is governed by rules that are generated by scripts and algorithms - all inputs of users (e.g. moving the joystick to the left) is processed through these embedded rules to produce the activity (output) seen on the screen by the users giving them the illusion of being in that space.
[All following sections condense - ‘game-type’]
Augmented space

Augmented reality

Augmented reality ... 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 that 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. [Website 2]

Again, there are two sub groups here. Physical Reality augmented with virtual artifacts, such as Magic Eye. [Website 3] This lets the user see the real world around him and augment this view by overlaying or composing three-dimensional virtual objects with their real world counterparts. The idea is that for the user it would seem as if the virtual and real objects coexisted. Hear &There [Website 4] is another example. Its an augmented reality system of linked audio that allows users to virtually drop sounds at any location in the real world, and users of the system could then hear the sounds associated with a given area.

The second subgroup is Virtual Reality augmented with virtual artifacts. Examples of this include the Berlin in 3D for Google Earth [Website 5] Las Vegas 3D Buildings [Website 6] Historical events link to Google Earth, such as World War Two Google Earth [Website 7], Famous WW2 Battlefields Today [Website 8]. Last, but not the least, Google street view [Website 9] 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 (Billinghurst, 2002)
 MagicBook 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. (Shelton, 2002)
 "Augmented Reality" simulations by MIT [Website 10]
 Handheld Augmented Reality Project [Website 11]
 others [Website 12]

Imagined space

Long before the advent of computer generated spaces, people have been fascinated and absorbed by spaces described by authors. In this type of space, the visualization of the environment, its artifacts and characters occurs solely in our imagination with hints supplied from the 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.

The imagined space has long been recognized as a powerful environment for learning as the cultural importance of literature testifies.

It should be noted that these spaces overlap in real situation. Imagined space, in particular, always supplement inadequacy of other spaces.

Game Environment and Game Boundaries

It maybe trivial to state that any game space has a boundary but given the varied types of game environments technologically possible today it is critical to evaluate this boundary. Within any game space marked by this boundary, a different set of rules applies to the behavior - usually with a game goal that drives all the activity within the game space. As soon as a player steps "outside the game boundaries", the normal socially expected behaviors are in effect. This section, describes our observed "boundary conditions" of the game space.

Our first observation is that game spaces do not exist isolated from the real world even if game boundaries are identifiable. In fact, game spaces are part of (a subset of) the larger space co-occupied by many different actors who act in complex combinations of different roles and stakes. Typically, when a game is used in teaching and learning, the immediately outer space of the game space will be the institute in which the games are hosted. Typical to a game space used in teaching and learning, an "institutional representative" may be present in the game space, not necessarily acting in full compliance to the game rules imposed upon other game players. The composition of the game space itself and the implications of such will be discussed in a later paper.

Many games exist in the physical space. Real world physics governs the behavior of all the artifacts within the game environment

Players can be said to be playing a game only when in game space, marked by chalk, or the imaginary line between two rocks. Even if they obey all the other rules of playing the game of football, as opposed to playing with a ball, they must be within the boundary to be playing the game..

Computer games ‘naturally’ exist in virtual space. The simulator embedded in such computer games, may have quite different rules from real world physics, as it controls the behavior of in-game artifacts. For example, in Tetris, the falling blocks are usually implemented as falling with constant speed. (Real world physics would require any falling object to accelerate.) As the game advances to higher stages, the speed of falling increases, which is not the same as real world.

Many games exist in every of the spaces mentioned about. For games in the physical space. Real world physics governs the behavior of all the artifacts within the game environment. However, the social rules will be continuously interpreted, negotiated and contested. For games in virtual envirnoments, such as computer games, the real world physics may not apply. However, the allowed range of actions by the players is also limited so that the ability to negotiated social rules may be reduced to near zero.

Most simulators are in virtual space.

Role play starts from a physical space and there are a number of initiatives of using role play online. (Hintjens, 2005; Linser 2004; Shaw & Mendeloff , 2006; Coll & Linser, 2006) Text-based online role-play operates in the Imagined space.

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. Salen and Zimmerman argue that such a boundary is critical in defining a game as such. The boundary, they suggest, clearly distinguishes between the ‘artificial world of the game’ and the “real life” contexts that it intersects. (2003; 94)

Linser, Lindstad and Vold (2007) however, have shown that at least in role-playing games, and in particular ones for educational purposes, this boundary is a lot more porous than what Salen and Zimmerman concede. Not only do life experiences of players cross the boundary and enter such games, but also knowledge, norms, values and social rules that exist outside the game, become strategic assets for players. Furthermore and critically important for educational purposes, in-game experiences and actions can and do migrate across the boundary into the real world. This is precisely the reason why games and simulations in general and role-plays in particular, are so useful for education.

The following characteristics do not absolutely have to be apparent in every game environment. Rather, they highlight boundary characteristics that may have pedagogical implications. The characteristics of the boundaries between the real space and the game space can be understood as variables along a continuum. The degree to which each is apparent 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, crossed over and maintained.


The permeability of the boundary refers to the extent to which game rules defining the boundary are susceptible to factors and influences from the real world to enter the game world. If the boundary were impermeable it would be resistant to external influences flowing into the game space. In contrast, a boundary with high permeability suggests a vulnerability to external influence.

Permeability of boundaries is the hinge that allows the insertion of outside knowledge, attitudes and strategies into the game, as well a facilitating the transfer of knowledge, skills, attitudes and understanding developed within the game environment to contexts in the 'real' world. The issue of Transfer in the literature, referring to the transference of knowledge and attitudes from game activity into the world, hinges on permeability of game boundaries. The assumption that playing games can be used as pedagogical tools to help students learn, though not necessarily, is often accompanied with the assumption that game boundaries are permeable to the transference of knowledge, skills and attitudes. If game environment boundary were impermeable to information and knowledge their utility for education would not be pedagogical, though may serve other purposes.

Most games played in physical space have permeable boundaries. Like all socially constructed rules, those that govern games are negotiated, maintained and contested as part of the game. The very fact that official games an appeal to a third party to adjudicate, a referee, who is both inside and outside game space, demonstrates clearly that the rules are negotiated and contested. Transference of knowledge, skills and attitudes is unambiguously part of the whole social phenomena of Football and 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, such as tenacity, leadership qualities, team spirit, can be used outside of the game environment.

Game environments do not exist in isolation. In the context of formal education and learning they are mostly situated within an "institutional space". In some instances institutional representatives will interfere with the in-character game environment thereby allowing the real world to permeate the game space. In such a situation, there is a risk that institutional relations will impact on players’ actions, which in turn may have tremendous impact on outcomes within the game environment.

Permeability to external power is a risk whenever interactions and task performance of players within the game are subject to formal assessment. One is quite likely to play golf differently when playing against the boss and best friends. Players may be inclined in such situations to be conscious that their play is subject to scrutiny and assessment by external sources to the game action and this may thus limit the scope of action they might take in the game. The course of action players might pursue is thus influenced by the permeability of the game boundary to institutional relations and norms.

However, this risk does not necessarily mean that players will alter their freedom of action within the game. Given appropriate strategies by institutional representatives (the Zen of Mod) it may actually increase the scope of actions players might take. It depends on the type of ‘interference’ institutional representatives insert into the game. For example, by providing alternative strategies, rather than insisting on what should be done, may increase the scope of actions identified by players.

The permeability of institutional relations can be subtle and unnoticeable. Educator should exercise great care when interacting with players during a game. A suggestion from a moderator can be interpreted as a command and hence steel from the players the exercise of real choice. On the other hand, a whole list of suggestions, even contrary ones, without providing preference, may enhance the players understanding and lead to even new forms of actions not envisioned previously. Whenever interactions and task performance of players within the game are subject to formal assessment, players are 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 could 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 part of the game or not? 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. [REF] Participants report difficulty in separating the real world events and characters from those of the game world. [REF] Participants in political science simulations run at the University of Melbourne and elsewhere were indeed specifically designed with ‘fuzziness’ merging real and game events. [Linser et. al 1999; Linser, 2004]


Flexibility refers to the capacity of the game boundary to respond to changes to the boundary itself. In other words it refers to the ability of the game environment to accommodate changes to the game rules or artifacts 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 example, the scenario for the Middle East Politics simulation (Vincent and Shepherd, op cit) is set 3 weeks into the future from the commencement date. It is possible, and indeed likely, that 'real' world parameters governing the scenario may change rendering the game environment less relevant - the death of a key character in the role-play or the outbreak of war. A flexible boundary, in other words ability to change rules and roles, 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 of the boundary is one way in which the characteristic of flexibility may be exhibited. We have borrowed the concept of plasticity from neuroscience to denote a boundary that is able to undergo organizational change as a result of experience. Adaptive plasticity means that the boundary can change in response to new information and dynamics either within or outside the game environment resulting in changes that may be translated to self-organized modification during the game or later iterations of the game. For example a role-play game set to have, lets say 2 interaction spaces, may change to incorporate 3 interaction spaces as a result of players self organization.

Elasticity is another way in which flexibility can be demonstrated. 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. Thus, a game that is scalable in terms of allowing modification to the number of players would be seen to have an elastic boundary whereas a game limited to a fixed number of players would have an inelastic boundary.

Fluidity is a third form of flexibility. It 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 new player is introduced into the game, or withdrawn from the game whilst play is in action?

There are other possible ways of understanding the flexibility of boundaries. In a computer simulation, the use of props such as a steering wheel or joystick may act to increase the realism of the game thereby reducing the separation (boundary) between real and game worlds. As such, it weakens the boundary. Tokenism on the other hand depends very much on the imagination and psychological makeup of the player. If a player recognizes the token as symbolic of a real world dynamic, this may also weaken the boundary. However, if the token is abstract to the point of meaning little to the player it may have no impact or perhaps strengthen the boundary.

Pedagogical Implications for the Learner/Player/Role

Learning through games, simulations, and role-playing is way of learning that depends very much on design characteristics. But it also depends on the learners themselves. 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—both in terms of the decisions you make and the ways you solve problems—Grand 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. [Gee, 2003]

In situation such as this, we obviously do not want violent criminal behavior 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 desired and formulated learning objectives. Playing becomes an excuse for debriefing. For this type of game, the debriefing helps to correct the shortcoming of permeability of the game environment.

For a flight simulator, the skill to land a plane in an emergency situation is a learning outcome. We would seek to ensure that the transfer of knowledge and skill is directly transferred from the game environment into 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, 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 minimize 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 rest of the team can take up the work. Team size also allows more elasticity.


This paper presented some characteristics of the environment boundaries involved in game, simulation and role-playing with the aim to understand and inform education designs using such learning environments.
[Section expansion]

On a personal note we think that in the head long rush into utilizing the possibilities that the communication revolution has enabled, it has been easy for teachers to over-look developments of very effective deep learning strategies that have been part of humanity’s arsenal from its inception. Role-playing is one of these and the communication revolution has provided this strategy with new opportunities. To the gaming generation, itself a product of the communication revolution, role playing games designed for education rather than entertainment do not seem to have been particularly sparkling – they don’t have the Wow factor of increasingly sophisticated 3D graphical interfaces. But pedagogically the sort of contexualised environments that on-line role-plays provide - graphic, virtual and text-based environments in which experience and reflection playfully interact in a game of identity, imagination and reality – enables an immersive engagement and deep learning experience that very few other strategies can match. In the words of an old Chinese proverb: Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I might remember. Involve me and I will understand. To this we would like to add: Let me play a role and I will transform.


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Website 1 Wikipedia: avatar: (viewed 20/8/07)
Website 2 Wikipedia: Augmented reality: (viewed 20/8/07)
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Website 12 (viewed 20/8/07); see also 7 Things You Should Know About Augmented Reality (viewed 20/8/07)