Archive for April, 2007

Organizational Change (In A Nutshell)

Tuesday, April 24th, 2007

I pulled this together by combining two previous papers and whittling it down to “one page.” This section may expand again to look very like those papers when it appears in my dissertation with supporting citations. However, I may wind up cutting this section altogether in order to maintain a tighter focus in the dissertation. Still, I believe the realities of organizational change will need to be considered in any effort to introduce video games into schools – particularly at scale. In any case, this section is heavily influenced by Senge, Evans, Fullan, the DuFours, and others.

This is probably the last of the “In A Nutshell” posts… and it’s kind of fun that it will be appearing on my birthday.

Of course, I’m still open to any comments, if you’ve got any to share. :)

If a new educational technology such as video games is going to be effective and sustainable, a great deal of organizational change is often necessary. Educational technologists can look to organizational change theorists for guidance in facilitating change and overcoming resistance to change.

In order to facilitate organizational change it is important to respect the realities of change. To be successful, change agents must respect that organizational change is a complicated, difficult, and time-consuming process – especially in an educational institution. It is also important to establish mission, vision, values, and goals in an organization so that everyone involved can focus their efforts on the things that are most important. Systems thinking, as opposed to linear or rational-structural thinking, can be a positive tool for change agents to understand and use in educational institutions. Systems thinking can help make big-picture patterns clear and help educational technologists change them effectively.

In the tradition of professional learning communities, educational technologists can do their best to support personal learning, collaborative learning, and the development of leadership in their organizations. Any organizational change begins with individual change, and any change requires learning. This makes individual learning the foundation of any organizational change. Personal learning may be a necessary condition for organizational change, but it is not sufficient; there must also be a degree of collaborative learning as well. This is the best way to combat isolation and stagnation in an organization. Both personal and collaborative learning are necessary for organizational change, but even these two are not sufficient without strong leadership. Change agents, including educational technologists, who hope to bring about positive change in schools must also take steps to develop leadership at all levels of their organization. Because teaching is one of the best ways to lead, it becomes even more important for educational institutions to also develop teaching in all their members. Ultimately the ability of an organization to teach and learn will be the determining factor in the success or failure of any change initiative, including any effort to introduce video games and simulations as educational technologies.

To overcome resistance to change, it is important to respect that resistance. Change agents who respect the realities of resistance will be more likely to successfully deal with and overcome challenges. Resistance is after all a healthy and necessary reaction to organizational change. It is also important to remember psychological factors, and that resistance to change is not merely a matter of logic, but of emotion. In addition, it is critical to seek effective strategies for responding to specific obstacles, challenges, and barriers.

Any effort a change agent puts into facilitating organizational change or overcoming resistance to change is lost if the effects, or more importantly the process, cannot be sustained. A state of continuous improvement is necessary for sustained change, particularly in the fast moving field of technology – and the volatile field of education.

An important element of sustaining change in an educational institution is to include families and the community in the change effort. Schools do not exist – and school change does not happen – in isolation. Change agents working to integrate educational technologies such as video games and simulations, must consider not only the changes necessary in the school, but the effect that these changes will have on the community. There may even be changes necessary in the community for the project to be successful, or the project may need to allow changes to accommodate the needs of the community.

In the end, parents and the community do not exist so much to improve schools, as schools exist to improve the community, or society at large. Organizational change theorists tend to subscribe to the view that the purpose of any school change is to effect positive social change.

A Message to Barack Obama: Break Free of NCLB

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

I received an email from the Obama campaign that was soliciting ideas. I love that the campaign is so… participatory. In any case, I this is what I cracked off in response. I didn’t put a lot of time into it, and didn’t want to be needlessly detailed. Have I gotten the message across? Or have I missed the mark in my enthusiasm?

In the long term, improving and modernizing America’s global image, policy, and military will be a function of our education system, which itself is in great need of improvement and modernization. Barack has shown great courage in standing up against the politically correct thing in favor of the right thing… and the people have responded positively – and gratefully. We need a leader who will do the same thing when it comes to education. Though it was well intentioned, the No Child Left Behind act is not well loved by educators… whether or not they misunderstand the law is hardly the point… it is perceived as a burden – and it is. Free our teachers and our system to meet the needs of individual students – as people, not as statistics. Then support the teachers and the system at integrating the newest technologies and techniques. Explore, experiment, and benefit from taking those risks. Consider how Barack’s campaign has benefit… as an educational technologist I can tell you that teachers and students would benefit even more. Sadly, America has more barriers to the use of educational technologies than many other “industrialized” nations – and too many teachers have had the fight (and the humanity) drummed out of them. This campaign (and an Obama presidency) can help. Step out against standardized testing and accountability and stand up for a flexible 21st century educational system.

Oh, here’s the message they asked me to pass on. It includes links for you to share your stories and ideas, too. :)

Hi,

Maybe you’ve traveled abroad and seen firsthand how in a few years George Bush has squandered the goodwill America earned over half a century. Maybe the decisions George Bush has made has sent your friend or family member into a war that should have never happened in the first place.

Barack Obama wants to know why a new direction for our foreign policy and restoring America’s moral leadership in the world is personal for you.

The more voices and ideas we can raise the better.

Share your story with Barack Obama by clicking here:

http://my.barackobama.com/stories

Share your idea with Barack Obama by clicking here:

http://my.barackobama.com/ideas

UPDATE 04/24/07: Ironically, it looks like my post was somewhat timely… check out this article from this morning’s eSchool News.

Role-Playing (In A Nutshell)

Monday, April 23rd, 2007

Ok, the titles of these posts were getting a little long… this one could easily have been “Role Playing in Table Top RPGs, MMORPGs, and Education” or something like that, but the role playing is the important part. If you’ve been following along, you’ll know I’m discussing the topic in the context of using video games, particularly massively multiplayer online role-playing games, in education… and I expect this post would be easy to jump into as well.

This particular post has been heavily influenced by Mackay’s writing on tabletop RPGs, and by the wide variety of constructivists, educational technologists, and video game scholars I’ve already mentioned in my other recent posts.

I look forward to posting the more complete version of this section… including your feedback if you’d care to leave any in the comments. The final version will appear as one of the last sections in the lit review of my dissertation.

The educational benefits or role-playing in the classroom are well documented elsewhere and well accepted, at least in constructivist circles.

Similarly, tabletop role playing games (RPGs) have a well-established history and tradition going back more than thirty years. These games have heavily influenced the video games that followed – both single player and massively multiplayer RPGs. However, much of the experience of tabletop RPGs has yet to be captured by a computer-based game, and much of the benefit is not yet available. The questions of how computers can best support meaningful role-playing and how such computer-assisted games can be incorporated into formal education remain as yet unanswered.

Tabletop role-playing games are commonly described as being descended from the increasingly sophisticated war games of the 19th and 20th century. These games included many simulation elements, as do many tabletop RPGs that use dice to resolve uncertainties. In video games, including massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) computers have taken over this role as referee and number-cruncher. A modern tabletop RPG is much more than a wargame, though; it is a system that facilitates game-play with a narrative structure to it. Within this system, players (especially the gamemaster) create their own goals and stories. Though tabletop games have their own limitations, they have accomplished a balance of story and interactivity that has so far eluded computer-driven games.

At it’s best, the sort of role-playing that takes place during a tabletop RPG session can be considered an art form. The creation of everything from characters to plot (and sometimes game rules and systems) is participatory and shared among players. A role-playing session is a sort of theater or performance with a built-in audience (the other players, if no one else) and in which players participate at several different levels; as people in the room, as players in the game, as narrators of the story, and as the character they play. Tabletop RPGs encourage players to engage with their whole selves, including their affective, subjective, and emotional selves – and the games encourage new connections between players as human beings. Such an intensely immersive and emotional experience can be a powerful way for players (of both sexes) to remain in a state of flow for hours.

This sort of role-playing also includes many inherent pedagogical benefits. Players have to deal with their characters’ strengths and weaknesses, which requires active cooperation and teamwork with others. A group of players can work toward shared goals and over time develop a shared culture (and shared mythology) surrounding the game. Also, spontaneous problem solving and decision-making are critical to success in the game. More importantly, players can take on a new persona or identity in an RPG, and can come to identify very closely with their characters. Players can even literally create a new world or reality within the game (or significantly effect the game world – in the role of a hero, which tends to be possible for only a few students in a traditional school setting). Conversely, the experience of playing can be part of the process of educating the player and creating who the player becomes. This can be even more powerful if the game is used to tackle difficult subject mater. At its best, the role-playing experience can offer moments of catharsis and redemption, and allow players to discover and resonate with even emergent and unintended themes.

Tabletop RPGs have influenced (and been influenced by) other media, including books, films, and even video games. Elements of role-playing can be found in adventure games, text based MUDs (multi-user domains), single player RPGs and, of course, MMORGPs. Tabletop RPGs probably share more in common with MMORPGs than any other modern genre of video game. However, whereas the tabletop RPG experience is best with only three to five players, MMORPGs usually accommodate thousands of players at once. The three to five player barrier is primarily a limit of human gamemasters. A computer system can handle a thousand times as many players, but has other limits, such as an inability to respond intelligently to unique situations, including unique dialog between players and non-player characters. Such limits are among the primary reasons why so little actual role-playing occurs in MMORPGs. Perhaps a game that is multiplayer, but not massively so, and that allows a human gamemaster to intercede in the automated systems, would be a better choice for supporting role-playing and thus for educational purposes. This might also mitigate some of the unpredictable nature of the co-created (and emotionally charged) emergent realities in MMORPGs, an issue of potential concern for educators and educational institutions.

In any case, a computer-based role playing game also has the advantage of being highly visible and easily recorded and analyzed for assessment purposes.

Educational game designers need to consider the question of how computers can best support meaningful and emotionally immersive role-playing. The ideal educational game might be part movie, part tabletop RPG, and part video game. Automating the tabletop games’ systems of collaboratively creating a meaningful narrative will be one of the most important technical challenges to realizing this goal.

Intro To Blogs at SAUSD

Saturday, April 21st, 2007

I’m askin’ teachers three familiar questions:

 1. What is a blog?

An online journal or diary… ongoing exchange ideas between people… shy students can express ideas online… a good way to disperse information… a record of what students said…

2. What is the read/write web?

You can read and respond… something like a chat room… or bulletin board… a forum.

3. What do you think these technologies might mean for your stundents?

 We can send information back and forth… you can’t claim to lose it… everyone can see it…

This is a short workshop… so we gotta get moving!

Link: CUEtoYOU in CTAP Regions 9, 11, and 5

Friday, April 20th, 2007

CUEtoYOU in CTAP Regions 5, 9, and 11 (Via CUE.org.)I just announced additional new CUEtoYOU professional development opportunities for Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties. Here is the complete announcement. Please pass this on to colleagues in those counties that might benefit from these opportunities:

CUEtoYOU Professional Development Services is expanding opportunities for individuals to register for workshops in their area. We are now offering events in CTAP Region 9 (at Cal State Fullerton), CTAP Region 11 (at LA Baptist High School), and in CTAP Region 5 (at the Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey County Offices of Education). Individuals in these areas can sign up online and pay with a credit card! 

CUEtoYOU in CTAP Region 9 – Cal State Fullerton*
Podcasting Bootcamp (Mac) – April 28, 2007, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm @ CSUF
Podcasting Bootcamp (Windows) – May 5, 2007, 8:30 am to 3:30 pm @ CSUF
CUEtoYOU Registration

CUEtoYOU in CTAP Region 11 – LA Baptist High School
Picasa and Photo Story (Windows) – May 9, 2007, 4:00 to 7:00 pm @ LABHS
Podcasting Bootcamp (Windows) – May 30, 2007, 4:00 to 7:00 pm @ LABHS
CUEtoYOU Registration

CUEtoYOU in CTAP Region 5 – Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, and Monterey Counties
Podcasting in Education (Windows) – May 15, 2007, 4:00 to 7:00 pm @ Santa Clara COE
Safety & Ethics on the Internet Highway – May 22, 2007, 4:00 to 7:00 pm @ Santa Cruz COE
Set Up Your Online Class with Moodle – May 30, 2007, 4:00pm to 7:00 pm @ Monterey COE
Registration for Region 5

Questions about CUEtoYOU? Contact Mark Wagner, CUEtoYOU Coordinator, at mwagner@cue.org or 949-394-6071.

*Offered in partnership with the Orange County Department of Education.

Designing Games with Emotion For Education (In A Nutshell)

Friday, April 20th, 2007

If you are familiar with his work, it will come as no surprise that this section draws heavily from David Freeman’s Creating Emotion in Games. Sheri Graner Ray’sGender Inclusive Game Design was another influential source. This section took longer to pull together, though, because many of my other sources were scattered throughout my outliner – sources as diverse as Dewey, Vygotsky, and Bruner… and Senge, Evans, and Fullan… not to mention Gee and Squire. I look forward to completing the longer version, complete with quotes and references, and posting that here, too. In the meantime, what do you make of this first effort?

Designing games that stimulate a broader spectrum of human emotions will be an important part of creating video games for educational purposes. Sadly, profound emotional experiences are rare in most video games. However, emotion is one of the things that players want from a game. Emotion can be a powerful motivator (and may be considered the only motivator). For instance, any personal or societal change will be motivated by emotions such as dissatisfaction, hope, or inspiration. A broader range of emotions in games will allow expanded demographics to enjoy the game. Most importantly, a greater variety of emotional stimuli may help video games appeal to more female players.

Early constructivists recognized the fundamental worth of expressing emotions, and noted that traditional educational practices fail to adequately stimulate student emotions. Others found play to be critical to emotional development and suggested that game play can serve a cathartic purpose. More recently, constructivist theorists have considered emotions part of the whole individual and a key element of integration into a cultural system. Modern constructivists and video game scholars understand that emotion is central to learning and is also a critical part of rational decision making. In short, an emotional context is an important part of a constructivist learning environment.

Even organizational change theorists acknowledge the importance of emotional development and believe that a good leader has a strong emotional intelligence, helps develop it in others, and seeks to build emotional bonds. Emotion is a source of energy in individuals and in learning organizations.

Video games, of course, can be both deeply personal and rich in social interaction. They can provide a context of authentic and emotionally compelling problems, and they can offer a degree of emotional support – or opportunities for emotional development or emotional adjustment. Ideally, they can help build emotional intelligence. Games can even be designed to help form the emotional disposition of students. As in life, emotional experiences in a game will vary over time as players learn to cope with the various challenges.

Including elements of story in a game can be emotionally engaging and stimulating. Story can facilitate powerful teaching and learning, and it can provide cohesiveness to a learning experience. Often, benefits can be gained by simply adding back story even if a game lacks narrative elements in the game play. However, it is always best if the story (or back story) influences – or is an integral part of – game play. In any case, story is not the only way to create emotion in games. Scenarios of competition, cooperation, or problems of social significance can also be emotionally engaging.

Game designers pioneering new techniques for creating emotion in games have focused on making many elements of a game deeper and more interesting. Non-player characters, for instance, can be made to be much more complex and more like characters in a good novel or movie. As in other media, complex characters can be revealed through their dialog and through their actions. Emotional relationships between characters are also important, especially for many female players. Creating an identity for groups of characters and a means for bonding between characters can help as well. Most importantly, though, the plot should allow important characters to follow a character arc – ideally one traced through several emotionally complex moments.

Though it is a more challenging design task, this is most powerful if the player, too, can experience a character arc. This is why inducting the player into the game world and into their role in the world is an important element of any game, and particularly with role-playing games. The potential payoff can be great, as immersed players are more likely to experience emotional and social discoveries, particularly if the creation of the story is at least partially in their hands. Such an emotionally compelling – and yet still interactive – game is a goal of many designers. Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) may be the closest to that goal of any existing game genre. As a social medium, MMORPGs include some inherent educational value. Players can socialize, build relationships, and experience emotional involvement with other players in the game. If this social medium is harnessed to explicitly support the sort of emotional development mentioned above, MMORPGs might be very powerful learning environments.

In designing any video game for education and attempting to include a broad spectrum of human emotions in the game, designers will have to remain wary of emotional oversimplification. Like other elements of good education and good instructional design, this too will be a time consuming challenge.

Inclusive Game Design For Education (In A Nutshell)

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Well, I know I’m automatically on this ice with this topic – on account of being a middle-class middle-sized American white guy who knows next to nothing of his ancestor’s cultures. ;)

Regardless, my thinking has been heavily influenced by the likes of Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins, Sheri Graner Ray, and others, including Nick Yee. You may note their influence here… and you’ll see detailed citations to their work in the longer version of this topic when I post it.

In the meantime, let me know if I’ve offended anyone, or if there are any other ways in which I’ve missed the mark here.

If any new technology is to be used in schools, it is important for the designers and the educators who are implementing it to be sure it is inclusive of all students. Video games, in particular, have a history of appealing primarily to a young or adolescent male audience. Though video games show a great deal of promise as an educational technology, it would hardly be appropriate to implement something that could potentially alienate half of the student population. Educators (and game designers) must therefore pay particularly close attention to gender inclusive game design (or game selection when choosing from existing games). Also, gender isn’t the only demographic variable that must be considered.

When it comes to gender in particular, educators and game designers need to cultivate an understanding of the historical relationships between females and machines, as well as gender differences in attitudes toward technology. Specifically, an understanding of how girls relate to (and play) video games – and a familiarity with the history of girls’ games – is important. The need to design and choose games that present strong female characters for girls to relate to is critical, as is the ability for girls to choose or create female avatars that they can identify with. There is a danger, though, in drawing too heavily on traditional girl stereotypes – or traditional male ideals of sex appeal.

Female players tend to play games differently and relate to games differently. Generally, they tend to have different conflict resolution styles. They also tend to respond to different reward systems and different types of gameplay. This is at least partly due to some fundamental differences between male and female physiology and what forms of stimulation they respond to best. It also stems from common differences in learning and communication styles. Females prefer different themes and different in-game (and out-of-game) relationships between characters (and players). Typically, female players prefer games that are more like open-ended microworlds, a preference that is not dissimilar from their stereotypical love of toys such as dolls or dollhouses. Role-playing and storytelling also tend to be even more important to female players, particularly if they can be in control of the characters and the story.

Games designed for girls (or for all students) should be designed with the benefit of the existing research on girls’ media consumption. But, markets are changing and cultures are changing. Furthermore, gender differences (such as those mentioned above) are not consistent. Individual differences between students are far more significant. It will seem natural to educators that games should therefore take advantage of various learning modalities and appeal to students with different learning styles.

Ultimately, game designers and educators should also aim to include students of all races, religions, cultures, sexual orientations, interests, language skills, and disabilities. In so doing, though, they must be careful to avoid segregation in the name of inclusion. In may be that “separate but equal” is no more appropriate in game design than it is in schooling. Luckily, established principles of inclusive software design can be applied to video game design as well.

Making an effort to create games that draw upon a greater breadth of human experience is another way designers and educators can ensure that video games are more inclusive than they have been in the past. The following section will address the importance of creating emotion in games.

Link: How about an Education Grid in Second Life?

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Second Life 2.0 is Here? (Via 2 Cents Worth.) David republished Ryan Bretag‘s comment calling for an “Education Grid” in Second Life… to span the distance between the Adult Grid and the Teen Grid. This is a brilliant idea I can’t believe I haven’t heard before, and I’d love to see a swelling grassroots call for this from educators interested in using SL with their students. So, I’m posting it here, too.

Link: Best. Wikispaces. Update. Ever.

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Best. Wikispaces. Update. Ever. (Via Wikispaces Blog.) It looks like Wikispaces has made some changes… just in time for my Introduction to Wikis workshop tomorrow. I look forward to learning about all the new changes… and to their future announcements.

Link: Internet Safety Training Event

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Internet Safety Training Event (Via Teaching Hacks.com.) I’m always on the lookout for Internet Awareness, Safety, and Ethics resources. This post links to several resources including two presentations.