Archive for March, 2008

Links for 2008-03-31

Monday, March 31st, 2008

Walden Dissertation Committee Very Responsive

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

I’m excited to report I’ve just sent a complete draft of my dissertation to Dr. Nolan (who is the chair of my committee). I know I’ve got months of revisions and hoops to jump through ahead of me, but boy is this starting to feel real – and nearly done. I should graduate after exactly five years in the program.

More importantly, after having written on this blog about my frustrations with getting my proposal approved in a timely manner (and with some incendiary post titles), I want to say publicly how amazingly responsive my committee was when they reviewed chapters 1 through 4 two weeks ago. They all got back to me with incredibly detailed, helpful, and encouraging feedback only two days after I turned in my draft. I certainly don’t expect such extraordinary turn around time with this complete draft of all five chapters and appendixes (they technically have 10 business days to respond), but I’m very much looking forward to their feedback and to improving my paper until it is ready for academic review and the provost’s signature.


MMORPGs in Schools: The Shift Ahead

Sunday, March 30th, 2008

One of my dissertation committee members asked that I address in Chapter 5 the paradigm shift necessary to implement MMORPGs in schools. I’ve chosen to include this in the concluding statement. I’ve just now finished a complete draft of the dissertation and finished composing the concluding statement. I plan to send it off to my committee soon, but I’m also dying to know what some of you might think. I’d appreciate any feedback you can offer on this concluding statement:

Shaffer, Squire, and Gee (2003) wrote that “videogames have the potential to change the landscape of education as we know it” (p. 111). They urged that games be designed with “sound theories of learning and socially conscious educational practices” (p. 111). However, they also noted that the theories of learning embedded in videogames as a medium run counter to the presiding theories of learning in schools. Squire and Gee (2003) explained that games may be viewed as suspect in an era when the value of instruction is measured by standardized tests (p. 30).

This study is significant because it explored a technology that may have the potential to improve (and perhaps revolutionize) education for Twenty-First century students and educators. An MMORPG might help students develop difficult to teach Twenty-First Century Skills, particularly if frequent and structured reflection time is provided for students. In addition, MMORPGs may be motivating and engaging for students while providing a context for learning and a framework for social learning. Also, as the serious games movement has demonstrated, these games might have the ability to inspire players to effect positive social change.

The future of education may be something very like an educational massively multiplayer online role-playing game. A century of artificially linear and context-free book learning may be replaced by a system in which students learn by doing. Traditional academic content might be learned by visiting a virtual world in which the content is situated and relevant. For instance, students of history might play a role in a simulation of the American revolution; a role that might just as likely be focused on drafting the constitution as it might be related to the war. Twenty-first century skills might be easier to teach because students are exercising them while working together in a game, and assessment will be authentic; either students will be able to apply their knowledge and skills successfully in the game, or not. Students might, for example, work together to launch a business in a simulated (or fictional) world.

Experiences like this might be available to students with an unprecedented degree of equity. Students in North America, Europe, Asia, and anywhere in less developed countries where an Internet connection is available might be able to take advantage of the same game worlds and educational experiences. Students might work together (for rigorous academic purposes) across boarders and cultural barriers. Everyone might be considered equal behind their avatars.

For this to happen in K12 schools, though, a paradigm shift of unprecedented magnitude might be required. This shift in thinking would need to occur in three major ways. First, schools would need to embrace the tenets of constructivist pedagogy. Schools would have to come to value such things as Twenty-First Century skills, reflection, engagement and motivation, context-embedded learning, and social learning. The wisdom of using a technology that can provide these things is not clear if these things are not valued. Hand-in-hand with this change, schools would need to accept and adopt new roles for educators, who might serve as facilitators, coaches, and debriefing experts to support student game play and reflection on game play.

Second, schools would need to overcome broader cultural resistance to using videogames in schools. Educational MMORPGs will need to be seen as learning worlds, not as a waste of time, and certainly not as violent or sexist in anyway. Educators, administrators, parents, and society at large would need to believe in the concept of hard fun, rather than believing as many do that fun and learning are mutually exclusive or diametrically opposed. Obviously, game developers will have an important role to play in this change, as will educational technologists who will be called upon to educate their colleagues, superiors, and communities about the value of the games.

The third change, though, may be the most difficult. Schools will need to accept a significant transfer of power. As with two-way web tools such as blogs, wikis, and social networks, MMORPGs allow students to interact with each other and create content without necessarily being moderated by teachers or other adult authority figures. Surely educational MMORPGs will need to include measures to address inappropriate behavior, but schools will also need to accept that students can say what they want to who they want when they want, that students will have relationships that extend beyond the school walls (and school hours), and that student solutions to in-game problems will be emergent, creative, and unlike what their educators may have predicted, expected, or hoped.

If such a paradigm shift is a desired destination, the road will likely be a long and difficult one. The results of this study suggest that significant infrastructure and logistical challenges may lay ahead for any implementation of MMORPGs in schools. Infrastructure challenges may include student access to computers, hardware requirements, and bandwidth requirements. Logistical issues may include great costs, in terms of finances, time, and human resources. Even more significant may be the kinds of organizational change necessary for successful implementation, particularly given the likelihood of resistance not only on account of MMORPGs being seen as videogames, but also on account of the tendency of educators and educational institutions to resist innovations in educational technology.

Pioneering early adopters, developers, and researchers are needed to overcome these challenges and work towards the necessary paradigmatic shifts. This work may require individuals with who are comfortable subverting the existing system. As March (2006) told educators struggling with similar issues related to two-way web technologies, to be successful pioneers may need to “be subversive” first in order to demonstrate the value of what they propose. Postman & Weingartner’s (1969) call for teaching to be a subversive activity (including their focus on the inquiry method, relevance, and meaning making) have gone largely unheeded, but that is exactly what may be necessary to bring about this potential shift in education and to allow students to realize the benefits that MMORPGs might provide in an academic context. The researcher thus calls for pioneers to innovate and be subversive in their efforts to act on the recommendations of this study and to further explore the potential benefits and drawbacks of using MMORPGs in schools.

Table Top Role Playing Games in Education

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

There were some meaty comments in response to my first post on this topic, and the day after Clark was born Matthijs Holter sent me another thought provoking email, which I’ve finally responded to. Here is Matthijs’ email:

As someone who lives and breathes tabletop role-playing, I’m always surprised to be reminded that not everybody does – tabletop role-playing is, after all, a fairly marginal hobby. The most popular TRPGs used to be those that were most “game-like” – like older versions of D&D; however, with Vampire: The Masquerade, a lot of people started playing just because it seemed cool to be a vampire. Still, games that don’t require too much personal input/stretching of imagination are probably the way to go for entry-level players, such as students and teachers. Simple, structured rules without much need for improvisation are a great introduction – and, for many, are really all that’s wanted or needed.The issue you bring up about human gamemasters and computation is interesting. Are you thinking about computations such as effects of combat strikes and similar? In many newer TRPGs, such as Lærelyst (the one my company is developing for educational purposes), the paradigm of “game rules simulate the laws of nature” isn’t used much. Rules are, instead, used to shape the story or affect player behavior. (For example, characters can score Reputation points for doing cool, brave, elegant or noble things; they score Experience points for their efforts at school).

The two fields (video and tabletop role-playing) aren’t really about the same thing any more, I think. They’re completely different experiences. However, that doesn’t mean one can’t use ideas and techniques from the other. Lærelyst, for instance, uses the video game method of teaching rules: You learn only what you need to play right now – and the game scales up in complexity when players are ready for it. For instance, in the first four sessions there is no combat, so players won’t need the combat rules – they learn those in session five, when they’re needed.

The main educational advantage of tabletop role-playing, I think, is the flexibility it affords to teachers who want to tailor the experience to their needs. Once the method is learned, it’s simple and cheap (free) to change a scenario, design a new one, create and integrate new educational tasks. (The second advantage, of course, is that it’s incredibly cheap compared to using computers – but that’s not anything that can be transferred easily to video role-playing).

With regards to using this as the basis for a blog post: Definitely, go ahead! I started a related thread on the Educational Role-playing forum a few days ago, a first stab at comparing some forms of play for educational purposes – I talk about TRPGs, video games and live-action role-playing. You can see it here – ; you might find it interesting.

In my response I wound up articulating two ideas I’ve had for some time:

I’ve finally given the time to reading this response and you bring up some good points about how some Table-Top RPGs have gotten away from number crunching rules. Perhaps that is a necessary evolution in the face of computerized RPGs. Other comments on the post (in which I shared your earlier email) pointed out how much face-to-face communication is lost in video games, and how little actual role-playing takes place in video games.

I suppose what would interest me most is some kind marriage of the two… perhaps something in which the computer takes care of the rules and calculations to keep the story moving, and maybe even where the computer renders an immersive virtual world, but where a teacher/gamemaster can still “play god” within the world to provide students with individualized and customized scenarios to play. This might looks something like MIT’s “Revolution” proof-of-concept created with the Aurora toolset in Neverwinter Nights… but without the technical barriers. Of course, it may be that something that flexible and powerful might always include significant barriers to use.

On the other hand, setting aside my educational technologist hat for a minute, I’d still love to see teachers leading educational table-top role playing sessions with students. I think powerful learning could result – as it did in my days playing table-top RPGs growing up. Ideally, of course, students would be running their own sessions once they were ready, too.

I think there’s the making of another blog post in this… and I may just cut and paste. ;)

Note, too, that my dissertation was on “Massively” multiplayer games, and to be valuable, role-playing games don’t necessarily need to be massively multiplayer… in fact, in some ways that might actually detract from the games’ value for role-playing purposes.

Links for 2008-03-25

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

iPhone for Kindergarteners (Or Younger Kids!)

Monday, March 24th, 2008

I’m now a proud iPhone owner (and loving it), and I’m noticing when people mention new ways the amazing (though expensive) handheld Internet devices can be used in education. My colleague Lainie McGann from the Newport-Mesa USD shared with me this email from Colleen Gurney, a Kindergarten teacher in the district:

During parent-teacher conferences a dad said how his little girl loves to look on his iPhone at the weather to see the temperature. So I told him that would be great to keep discussing Fahrenheit, Celsius, degrees, and what not. I also said that if she likes the iPhone, it would be great for her to look at the Calendar to practice the days of the week, months of the year, and yesterday/today/tomorrow (all good Kinder skills). The clock is also a good tool because it is one of the few analog clocks left in this world and practice time to the hour is also a K standard. So how about that? The iPhone is fun for parents and educational for kids!”

The image above is Colleen’s daughter Natalie flipping through pictures of herself on her mother’s iPhone. When do you think 6 week old Clark will be ready to do his first Google search with my iPhone? ;)

Links for 2008-03-23

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

YouTube – Obama Speech: ‘A More Perfect Union’ This is important and I think you should watch it, whether or not you are an Obama supporter, or a Democrat. Watch it because you’re an American – or because you’re a human being that cares about what happens in this country and the ramifications it might have on the world. Watch it because you understand that sound bites can’t possibly tell the whole story. And watch it because this speech will be in the history books and it’s worth 37 minutes of your time to know what was really said.

Links for 2008-03-18

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Ed Tech Conferences for Administrators

Tuesday, March 11th, 2008

When I started leading AB 75 workshops for administrators in January 2005, I wasn’t exactly excited that I wasn’t training teachers… but I quickly learned that if there’s one person’s fire you want to light at a campus, it’s the administrator. This is of course doubly true at the district level or higher. Now I’m thrilled to be involved with two upcoming educational technology conferences focused on administrators.

Computer Using Educators (CUE) has partnered with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA) and the Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership (TICAL) to present the Leadership 3.0 symposium (Lead3), an event that focuses on leadership, technology, and innovation:

Are you a busy superintendent, principal, or other K-12 administrator who must provide informed leadership in how technology is deployed? Are you an educational administrator who wants to use technology more effectively yourself? Would you like to hear how other administrators are using technology in their work? If so, this symposium is for you!

Lead3 is happening April 10-12, 2008 at the Westin Hotel, San Francisco Airport. Download the program and registration form and keep track of the latest news at the Leadership 3.0 blog. Oh, and one more thing… Sir Ken Robinson is the keynote speaker. :)

The Fresno County Office of Education Instructional Technology Department is also producing an exciting event for administrators on May 15 & 16 at Tenaya Lodge in Yosemite. You can’t ask for a better location, and they’ve brought in speakers such as Dr. David Thornburg (the keynote), Chris Walsh, and Steve Hargadon – so there promises to be some innovative content and hands-on workshops. Participants will “discover how leadership, innovation, and the latest web technologies can transform teaching and support student achievement.” View the conference flyer here and register online.

If you are an administrator, I hope you’ll consider attending these events, and if you are a teacher or tech coordinator who would like your administrator to understand more about the tools and pedagogies you’re advocating, pass this information on to your administrators – and convince them to go. ;)