In today’s entry, we will be finishing up the list of game theory terms.
Real-time vs. Turn-based: In real-time games, the gameplay progresses continuously in step with the game clock. Turn-based games separate gameplay into discrete units or “turns” in which the player can analyze and plan before taking action. In many cases, turn-based games do not have a time limit on how long each player has for a turn. As an example, chess is a turn-based game. Each player has a discrete gameplay unit in which to plan and commit to an action. By contrast, consider a medical game or simulation in which player actions and environmental events happen continuously, without set periods for each side (in this case, the player and the medical environment) to commit to actions. The player will have to deal with changes in the game situation as they happen.
Sequential vs. Simultaneous: This concept is similar to real-time vs. turn-based. In a sequential game, players act in sequence, with knowledge of the opposing players’ previous moves. In contrast, in a simultaneous game, players act at the same time without knowledge of the other players’ actions.
This concept does have a relationship to turn-based games. During a turn, the players’ actions can be sequential or simultaneous. If players act simultaneously within a turn, the game is simultaneously-executed. If the player actions within a turn are sequential, the game is player-alternated.
Symmetric vs. Asymmetric: In a symmetric game, the reward and outcome of using a particular gameplay strategy are dependent only on the gameplay itself, not on who employs the strategy. In asymmetric play, the outcome depends on who is using the strategy. For example, consider a game that splits players up into different roles or “classes.” If a medic or healer character attempts to treat a wound, we might assume that it would be more effective than if a combat specialist made the attempt. This situation is an example of an asymmetric gameplay situation.
This post concludes the overview of different game theory approaches. But how do you decide which concepts to use in your game? There really is no clear-cut set of guidelines to use. The choice really should depend on what you’re trying to accomplish with your game. For example, is the purpose of your game is to give players practice in mission-critical, reflex-oriented situations that require quick thinking, you might be better off with a real-time game, which would be closer to a real-life situation. If your game situation is based on training for a specific role, or practicing team-based work in which each team member has a specialized role, try an asymmetric game. As you can see, each choice has different pros and cons, and there are a variety of ways to implement the concepts for different results in your games.
eLearning March 19th, 2012 Dorothy Phoenix Permalink
Andy Petroski is a co-coordinator of LEEF and Director and Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University.
That’s not something you want to hear in chess or in business, unless you’re the one on the right end of the check. What role does learning play in keeping your organization in the game? Do you operate as a Pawn; a necessary component, but with limited options and ability to impact the overall results? Or, do you operate as a Queen with the ability to move in all directions, focused on immediate needs and long-term strategy, with a big impact on the outcome?
Business is changing. Differentiators for long-term success now go well beyond product, price and selling strategy. Successful organizations are collaborative, agile, innovative and constantly learning.
So, the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) and the learning function are more important than ever to an organization’s success. But, classroom sessions, PowerPoint slides and week-long conferences won’t get you where you need to be. The approaches used in games, simulations and virtual worlds along with the power of social media is what more and more companies are turning to in order to have the greatest impact on the organization. Industry analyst Gartner Says By 2015, More Than 50 Percent of Organizations That Manage Innovation Processes Will Gamify Those Processes (http://bit.ly/dMwY8P). Online tutorials and courses are still useful, but organizations that also have games, simulations and virtual worlds in their toolbox are able to provide solutions for true impact in the organization. Game approaches can energize your workforce by providing employees a sense of purpose and aspiration for tasks that they may think are repetitive and dull and drive performance improvement by providing more timely feedback. Gaming elements integrated into the business can also energize the workforce, innovate organically, motivate teamwork and identify emerging leaders. (Adding play into the enterprise.)
Information (through tutorials and courses) is important, but performance improvement and behavioral change create real impact. These new solutions involve active, problem-based learning that requires critical thinking and analysis. Collaboration and communication through social media can often be a part of these solutions as well. Critical thinking, collaboration and communication are all skills that organizations say their employees are lacking. Games, simulations and virtual worlds can be used to integrate the development of these skills into learning solutions and ongoing operations.
Of course, you can’t just plop these new solutions into your toolbox and expect results. You need to rethink your learning organization’s processes, your design and development team’s skills and learning’s perceived role in the organization’s success. You also need to consider that the impact of games, sims and virtual worlds can extend well beyond “training.” These are tools that can permeate the organization at all levels to improve the way the organization collaborates and innovates. Gamification, the use of game mechanics in regular, ongoing activities, is an example of how game approaches can be widespread. Once only seen in marketing (e.g. frequent flier miles), gamification is now being considered as a way for organizations to crowdsource innovation, motivate employees and improve processes.
Your competitors are changing and new ones (you might not even know exist) are taking a different approach to learning and operations right from the beginning. As CLO, now is the time to determine whether learning will operate as a Pawn, a necessary component, but with limited options and ability to impact the overall results or as a Queen with the ability to move in all directions, focused on immediate needs and long-term strategy, with a big impact on the outcome. The tools and the technologies are available. What’s your move?
Join us at the Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum on May 3-4, 2012 to explore the biology of games and simulations. LEEF is an interactive professional development event that explores the use of games, simulations and virtual worlds for learning. Go to www.goleef.com to learn more about the event!
Welcome back! Let’s follow up my last post by explaining some of these game theory concepts. How do players interact with each other, and with the game world? What kind of information is available to them? I’ll be splitting up these concepts into several posts, to keep each post to a manageable length.
Cooperative vs. non-cooperative: In a cooperative game, players work together to achieve a goal, whereas non-cooperative games are more based on competition. Note that you can have games that combine the two. For example, when you have teams competing against each other, team members are cooperative within their teams, but non-cooperative against other teams.
A good way to use cooperative play for learning might be in a game that encourages team-work skills, or in an exploratory setting where students are working together to learn and uncover information about a topic, maybe even a “lab” type of game setting.
Zero-sum vs. non-zero-sum:In a zero-sum game, a player benefits from another’s loss. If you add up the total value of all players’ wins and losses, the sum should equal zero, making for a purely competitive game. The old card game, War, is a good example of a zero-sum game. If my card is stronger than my opponent’s, I take my opponent’s card, my gain is his loss. I can only win the game after I have taken all of my opponent’s cards, so the total that they’ve lost is equal to the total that I’ve gained. Contrarily, in a non-zero-sum game, players all suffer or gain together. If I’m playing a strategy game, perhaps a war game or simulation, I might devise a strategy that allows me to disable an enemy’s pieces, but at the same time, am I suffering a loss as well? It could be a loss of resources, loss of time, whatever, but the victory still comes at a cost. If I am allowed to negotiate with my opponent, we might come to some resolution that benefits us both. In realistic training situations, often you will have non-zero-sum settings.
Perfect information vs. imperfect information:This concept addresses how much each player knows about the game world. With perfect information, a player knows everything relevant about the game world, whereas with imperfect information, some important information remains unknown. Note that some participants may have perfect information, while others have imperfect information, and in the case of video games, participants might not all be human. For example, I could program a game in which a human player faces the game AI (artificial intelligence), and the AI knows all of the resources that I have as well as its own. On the other hand, while the AI has perfect information, I might be left with a very limited view of the AI’s resources, thus I have imperfect information.
In some video games, the developers implement a literal “fog of war;” enemy or un-traversed territory might be covered in fog or otherwise obscured, so that initially the player does not know what lies ahead. For example, a player might enter an enemy’s dungeon, and she does not yet have a map of the dungeon layout. As she visits different areas in the dungeon, those areas are automatically mapped, and now the player has a more complete idea of how to navigate the dungeon. Of course, this information obscurity mimics real life. In a war, for example, no combatant has a perfect set of information about the enemy situation. Throw in factors such as weather and other events outside of our immediate control, and our information is even more imperfect.
Those are all the concepts I’ll cover in this post. Take some time to read and digest them, and in the comments, please feel free to share your own examples of these concepts. What kinds of learning situations do you feel might favor some of these concepts over others?
Check back for my next post, where we’ll be going over more game theory concepts.
eLearning February 10th, 2012 Dorothy Phoenix Permalink
First, as a followup to my last post, if anyone would like further information about game requirements and specifications, please post a comment and I will answer questions or provide further information.
Now, on to the next part of our discussion. For my next few posts, I would like to focus on the taxonomy of serious games. In a general sense, taxonomy is classification into categories. How can we do that with serious games? I will be looking at two areas of classification: game theory and genre.
Game theory can apply over different types of games. It is a model for analyzing gameplay based on interactions between players, the game world, and information in the game world. I will not be doing an exhaustive examination of game theory (there’s plenty of books and experts out there that can explain in much greater depth), but there are a few key aspects that I will be introducing. We will be looking at: cooperative vs. non-cooperative, zero-sum vs. non-zero-sum, real-time vs. turn-based, symmetric vs. asymmetric, and sequential vs. simultaneous. We’ll see how these distinctions can be applied to serious games.
We will also be looking at game genres, which might be a more obvious method for classification. Games are generally grouped into genres based on gameplay and narrative style, and there are usually “tropes” that are associated with different genres. However, beware, because I want to caution you against pigeon-holing your gameplay into a genre. Don’t feel that you must follow a cookie-cutter approach to selecting gameplay features based on a particular genre! Some of the most successful games combine elements that are generally associated with different genres. We’ll be going into more detail on that subject, after we cover some of the basic and common genres.
Check back for my next post, where we’ll jump into game theory in more detail.
In the meantime, here’s a discussion question for the comment section. What other ways can you think of, that you might use to classify games or gameplay experiences?
eLearning February 4th, 2012 Dorothy Phoenix Permalink
In keeping with this year’s theme for LEEF, I am starting a series of blog posts about the different biological aspects of serious games, including evolution, origin, taxonomy, function, growth and structure. These areas are broad and obviously we’ll all have different interpretations of exactly what they entail in terms of games. My hope is that through this series of posts, we can have a discussion and framework for how we can think about these areas.
Let’s start off with the origin of a serious game. For me, the origin of any software, including a game or simulation, begins with requirements. Why do we need a game for our curriculum (or do we)? What purpose will it serve? What should be our specific targeted outcomes for this game?
In my opinion, adding games to your training program just because it’s the popular thing, or because “games” is a buzzword, is not a strong enough justification. You really need to consider how the games will complement your training. This consideration will be the genesis of your requirements; you identify an existing need and you clearly state how a game will address that need.
For example, you find that your students aren’t engaged in the training. The topic might be a bit dry for the students, or they might need a hands-on experience to really understand the material. Introducing a game into the training can add a hands-on opportunity for students to apply the material in a safe environment. As a result, the students get a better handle on the material and therefore are more engaged in class. The game also provides some variety to the training, so maybe now it’s not just a lecture format. You could add even more variety by following the gaming sessions with discussion or debriefing. After carefully considering how to use the game in the training, you decide that it’s a suitable solution.
Now that there’s an identified need, you should decide on specific outcomes and requirements. These requirements can be a combination of technical, educational, and experiential. On the technical side, you’ll consider the platforms on which this game will need to be played, for example. Of course, we want to map the gameplay experience to our educational goals. We also want to set a goal for how we want the students to relate to the curriculum overall, which may be a bit harder to gauge quantitatively. For example, we can easily test whether a game meets technical specifications, and we can get a good idea of the game’s effectiveness by examining student’s performance on assessments and success in the field, but we’d also like to know if the learners feel more engaged in the courseware, if they enjoy it more as a result of the game, if they are spurred to further explore the material beyond the required bounds, etc. Those considerations can be a helpful part of your requirements as well.
Discuss and document these requirements as an initial step towards developing your educational game.
eLearning January 31st, 2012 Dorothy Phoenix Permalink
Andy Petroski is a co-coordinator of LEEF and Director and Assistant Professor of Learning Technologies at Harrisburg University.
As games and simulations become a part of our everyday lives, it benefits us to consider how these immersive environments are evolving and what impact the evolution has on our learning, behavior and disposition toward them. Games and simulations have become part of our ecosystem. Once relegated to entertainment or typically large scale learning implementations (i.e. flight simulator) serious games and simulations are also now a part of health information, marketing, training, information systems, education, social change, events and many other aspects of our lives.
From dictionary.com, Biology is “the study of living organisms, including their structure, functioning, evolution, distribution, and interrelationships; the structure, functioning, etc, of a particular organism or group of organisms.” From Wikipedia, “Biology is the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy.”
As we begin planning for the Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum (LEEF) 2012 we propose a consideration of games and simulations as living organisms. And we propose terming “Immerology” as the study of immersive forms of learning, such as games and sims, including their structure, function, evolution, distribution, interrelationships, growth and taxonomy. These game and simulation elements have changed, some quite drastically, over the past decade. How will serious games and simulations continue to evolve and what unique impacts will they have on our relationships with products, providers, learning opportunities, companies and each other? This is what we hope to explore during LEEF 2012 through keynotes, case studies, workshops, presentations and the discussions before, during and after the event.
Biology has some central tenets that form the basis of the science. We propose a similar set of tenets for Immerology, some of which we can adapt directly from Biology.
|Cells are the basic unit of life
||Behavior change is the core purpose of immersive learning (i.e. games and simulations)
|New species and inherited traits are the product of evolution
||Integration with other systems or data and new technologies are the drivers of evolution
|Genes are the basic unit of heredity
||The DNA of any game or simulation includes motivation, action and reflection
|An organism regulates its internal environment to maintain a stable and constant condition
||The balance between fun and frustration is the fundamental equation in immersive learning environments
|Living organisms consume and transform energy
||Games and simulations consume and provide energy
Do you think the evolution of serious games and simulations warrants a scientific branch? How have you seen the impact of games and simulations evolve? Do you have any suggestions for the tenets of Immerology?
Immerologists unite and join us at LEEF 2012 on May 3, 4!
Join us at the Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum on May 3-4, 2012 to explore the biology of games and simulations. “LEEF is an interactive professional development event that explores the use of games, simulations and virtual worlds for learning. Go to www.goleef.com to learn more about the event!
eLearning November 16th, 2011 Andy Petroski Permalink
Andy Petroski and I had the privilege of presenting our work with the Virtusphere in the ‘Emerging Tech’ area at DevLearn’s Expo last week in Las Vegas. Many of you got a chance to see the VirtuSphere as a High Tech Demo at LEEF 2009, and then again as a featured product at LEEF 2010. The DevLearn event gave us a chance to take our demonstration of the Virtusphere to a new level as we highlighted our first steps in developing learning scenarios for the locomotion device with an office walk through.
Our focus with the Virtusphere has been on skills that require locomotion and determining the benefits of the sphere, and physical activity, in the training of those skills. There has been some research already done on the connection between exercise and increased brain activity. We hope to apply and expand that research into specific learning solutions with our Virtusphere work. In our talk on the ‘Emerging Tech’ stage, Andy presented some insights learned from the Frankline Institute’s ”Physical Exercise for a Better Brain” article. Here are a few take-always:
Light exercise is good for your brain. it increases blood circulation and the oxygen and glucose that reach your brain. Studies show that in response to exercise, cerebral blood vessels can grow, even in middle-aged sedentary animals.
Dopamine and other chemical neurotransmitters are activated during exercise to regulate muscle movement. Activation of these chemicals also increases brain activity.
Studies of senior citizens who walk regularly showed significant improvement in memory skills compared to sedentary elderly people. Walking also improved their learning ability, concentration, and abstract reasoning.
With this research as a starting point, we’re investigating the VirtuSphere as a training tool that promotes physical activity during learning. Below are the areas we’re investigating and the associated projects we’re undertaking:
- Inner Space: Plasma Racer – built with anatomy students in mind, this first-person racing game put users in command of their own nano-mech suit. Players race through the human body on a life saving mission to the heart. Along the way, they must identify various arteries, veins, and life threatening anomalies.
- Outer Space
- Environmental Analysis: Claims Adjuster Training. This assessment tools would be used to improve the current training process for insurance claims adjusters/investigators. Once inside the VirtuSphere, a student would have to examine and appraise dynamically damaged in a virtual environmental. The advantage with this tool, is that students could run through countless scenarios in preparation for a state exam.
- Location Tours (History): The Battle of Gettysburg – working with digital models created by a local developer, this experience puts the user right in the heart of Pickett’s charge with a firsthand view of the Civil War’s turning point. This project will also include interactive waypoints which provide commentary and insight for the user.
- Architectural Walk Through
- Data Analysis / Manipulation
- Final Stage of Psychotherapy
Our presence at DevLearn was well received by the organizers and attendees. It was great to get feedback from the 40+ guests who climbed in and took the sphere for a spin and the 75+ that stopped by to talk with us about this unique technology. Thank you all for your discussions about soldier training, solar panel installation, mine and plant safety, law enforcement training, engine walk throughs and many more innovative ways in which the Virtusphere could be used as a learning solution.
eLearning November 5th, 2011 Charles Palmer Permalink
Last year I attended this conference virtually, which while less expensive, was like peering into a fishbowl and knocking on the glass (sending tweets for questions and offering comments) and attending via Second Life like sitting in the balcony seats with the cool kids, exchanging clever remarks. This event was hosted at the National Defense University which has a nice new modern building with a great auditorium (hey, this is where President Obama spoke when he explained to the public our strategy for bombing Libya) and presentation spaces, and put together by Dr. Paullete Robinson and her staff and colleagues. This cluster of buildings evokes the feeling of a US military academy (which it is similar to, except this is a like a graduate school for senior military and other related government officials etc.)
This year I had the honor and pleasure of attending in person (yes, can you imagine me, a proponent of virtual worlds- real human contact) conducting a workshop with my colleague, Dr. Anders Gronstedt and appearing on two panels. You can watch my participation on this panel and some of the other keynotes at
Mine is the one at the bottom: Virtual Worlds in Government: State and Federal Perspectives
and the other http://www.ndu.edu/iCollege/fcvw/agendaD2.html
Federal Virtual Worlds Challenge Artificial Intelligence Finalists – Technical Discussion also at the bottom, my avatar is Kazimir Malevich if you can catch me on the screen, although my name does appear there.
Note: there were some technical issues during this presentation, but, hey, what can you expect when you are on the bleeding edge of technology with so many firewalls.
One realization I came to during this conference is that I find that one of my greatest challenges on the job is finding time to play video games. So my recommendation to the kids out there is: play as many as you can before you get into the “real world” as you may not have time later.
The other one that came to mind was that our products (the course, exercises, tools, plans etc.) always have to be thought of in the Beta testing state of Continuous Improvement. This means we need to think about the development of our services and products in Beta stage with Gamma level quality delivery (i.e. always meets the expected needs, not a Beta product that does not function properly) and looking at how we can enhance them.
Some folks in the US Government are doing some highly creative work in virtual worlds (VWs). See some of the work of Eric Hackathorn at http://government.guildportal.com. Who would have thought of a government guild in World of Warcraft?! Then there is the highly engaging work done by NASA’s Dr. Daniel Laughlin who has developed in conjunction with Virtual Heroes the space mission simulation Moonbase Alpha which you can find at the following link http://www.nasa.gov/offices/education/programs/national/ltp/games/moonbasealpha/index.html
This has an Educator Guide as grade school teachers have been using this for teaching students about outer space exploration. They now have a follow on space simulation that will feature a mission to mars see http://www.virtualheroes.com/NewsImages/Roddenberry_NASA_MMO_Game.pdf
The future is already here, it is just unevenly distributed.- William Gibson
David Smith, Chief Innovation Officer for Lockheed Martin, has been involved in VWs since their start and has developed some of the larger platforms, establishing Teleplace, among other accomplishments. He points out that we are only at an early stages in our incorporation of virtual worlds, virtual reality, apps, and other newer technologies.
The computer is an instrument whose music is ideas -Alan Kay
David Smith sees us wearing computer technology and integrating that increasingly more seamlessly into our lives. Just think of a GPS device, Facebook, or Twitter and their use in everyday life. He said that augmented reality will light up a room the way a light bulb will, and he is right. Look at Google or Bing maps, and how we use them to find a restaurant or other local services. Now think of a smartphone with an external facing camera, just point and look with an app like Layar and your get an image on your 3D visual that can point out a number of different pieces of useful data.
He did show us some nifty sites, like Google Body 3D, http://bodybrowser.googlelabs.com. Where was this when I was taking high school biology?!
Chris Moore, CIO of City of Edmonton
Need I write more when this fellow has a desk-less office, has not printed out anything on paper in over two years (this is hardcore eco-friendly behavior to admire), and, more importantly, has developed a Second Life site for the City of Edmonton, see http://www.edmonton.ca/city_government/news/welcome-to-virtual-edmonton.aspx
They are using it for a range of outreach, tourism, culture, civic engagement. Some very forward thinking he is pushing a concept called Workspace Edmonton allowing any device, anywhere, anytime to access City data, whether that is a Government employee or Citizen, this means all platforms, Android/Ipod/Browser etc., creating total access (restricted of course for sensitive work and data) and freedom of choice.. This is brilliant.
Mandy Salomon, Sr. Researcher, Swinburne University, Australia
Mandy told us about a very ambitious project by the Australian Government to roll out fiber optic networks to every house, building etc. within 9 years in Australia; it will carry 100 mbs. The Gov’t has bought out Telstra and is undertaking this infrastructure itself. Universal access and universal speed., creating a national broadband network.
Here are some other great VW uses that were presented, some that may be familiar….
Claus Nemzhov’s 3d Avatar School. This school started with mandarin Chinese. They created a role play in Chinese with the scenario of crime scene. Students then need to act out in court. In other cases, students need to come up with excuses for why they don’t do the laundry using the objects that they are
given, using their Chinese language skills for practice with native speakers in the VW.
MK Haley, Carnegie Mellon (while not entierly VW related) Wii is a cross cultural, cross generational game box. She talked about the the Marshmellow Challenge- Analogue way to explore how VWs can be useful for team learning and development. See www.Marshmallowchallenge.com
There was a presentation An Ecosystem Approach to Designing in VWS Reusing code, reusing simulations, with a way to standardize the way SMEs translate what they know into VWs.
Dr. Chris Dede from Harvard spoke about work they did with VW platforms teaching grade school kids ecosystems. He highlighted some of the Core Challenges We Face for teaching:
- Shifts in the knowledge and skills society values
- Development of new methods of teaching and learning
- Changes in the characteristics of learners
Emerging IT is reshaping each of these and changing how we learn and know. Key questions:
- How do people learn?
- What are we learning?
- What methods do we have to learn?
Collaborative Problem resolution via Mediated Interaction, i.e. team based problem solving:
- Problem finding before problem solving
- Comprehensions by a Team, not an individual
- Making meaning out of complexity:
Some of the other points he made:
- Situated learning and transfer.
- Constellations of architectural, social, organizational and materials vectors that aid in learning culturally based practices.
- Apprenticeship (the process of moving from novice to expert within a given set of practices) will come back into play in specific professions (think fellows/graduate based meaningful internships).
- Wireless mobile devices offer substantial power at a fraction of the cost of laptops and with greater mobility.
- Entertainment and learning are infused anywhere
- One to one person to device ratio becomes affordable in education
They are aiming for an educational data-plans for $15/month/per user with Eco MUVE with Ecomobile, cloud computing. From the Institute for Education Sciences US Dept. of Education http://www.ed.gov/technology/netp-2010. Intel, MS, and Cisco have begun an initiative to identify 21 century digital intelligence skills.
Naval Underseas Warefare Center (NUWC)
Design is not a single model but a process about how you got there.
Phillip Monte, NUWC. They collaborate through Virginia Block IV attack center. His unit is looking at VWs for command and control (C2) in a visualized concept of operations:
- Audio Flow
- Visual Flow
- Control Flow
- Data Flow
TANGO- VW Virtual Operation Center; able to provide a knowledgeable assistant. Intelligent Agents can replace the real agent. Create a whole record of an entire meeting.
The Future Beyond- Personal Next Steps
After this conference, some of the areas I am currently looking at exploring and possibly implementing are:
- a capabilities assessment of virtual worlds. My friends at Daden Ltd. in the UK have developed a world finder that is a selection tool with a small number of virtual world (VW) platforms. You can find it here http://www.daden.co.uk/pages/virtual_world_finder.html
- Looking at how we might apply NUWC C2 VW designs in an emergency operations center (EOC) to facilitate the common operation picture and united action.
- Applying what we do to mobile apps, in particular single person drills to cover those individual knowledge and performance based training modules.
- Mobile apps for field guides: information that is just-in-time for work in the field of operation.
- Further analyzing teamwork and learning vs. the individual in our own VW based training (see SL Hurricane Shelter Training Course).
- Looking at the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) Bots to mimic certain behaviors in disaster scenarios and to create injects for responders to address.
- Trying to cut down on my own paper use (thanks for the benchmark Chris Moore!)
That is all for now. The adventure continues….
CUNY School of Professional Studies
eLearning June 6th, 2011 Andrew Permalink
I recently reached out to Keith Devlin, the co-founder and Executive Director of Stanford University’s H-STAR institute, a research center that focuses on the application and innovation of technology for research, education, entertainment, commerce, and other areas of life. Mr. Devlin agreed to contribute a guest blog entry detailing some of the ideas in his recent book, Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning. What follows in this post is his entry. I’d like to thank Mr. Devlin for taking the time to write and share his thoughts with us.
There are a fair number of video games available that claim to teach mathematics, many of them free, some for sale. If you include the casual games in the App Store, they number in the hundreds. But it does not require more than a cursory look to see that the vast majority do not teach mathematics at all; rather they provide an opportunity to practice basic math skills that have already been learned. That is a useful contribution to math learning, and if it can be achieved in a fun way without the student becoming discouraged or learning to hate math, then all to the good.
But video games offer far more than that. A good video game is about exploration, (genuine) learning, and problem solving. That makes them an ideal medium for real, conceptual mathematics learning. So why are there so few games that do just that? Part of the reason appears to be that the people designing them do not really understand mathematics education. With the best of intentions, they focus on the most obvious part of mathematics learning, namely mastery of basic number and algebra skills (mostly just the former), and within that highly restricted range they go for the low hanging fruit, such as automatic recall of the basic multiplication bonds (“multiplication tables,” in old terminology).
I suspect that in most cases (and in a few cases know for a fact) the development team did not include either a qualified, classroom-experienced mathematics educator, nor a mathematician. From a math ed perspective, that is like setting out to build a house by assembling a group of bricklayers and carpenters, but not thinking to hire an architect. Basic math skills are the bricks you need to build the mathematical house. But what today’s society needs (in numbers far larger than our schools are currently supplying) are mathematical architects – people who can think mathematically. Video games can help develop mathematical thinking, but they are a lot more difficult to design than a simple skills-tester.
Examples of such games are those by Dreambox Learning and Mind Research Institute. Both of those products are aimed at fairly young children. When you look at middle school and upwards, you have to look outside mathematics to find a really good example of a video game that develops sophisticated thinking – namely the wonderful game Portal, a game sold as an entertainment game, as it happens, not developed for the education market.
The first thing you need to do when setting out to design a math ed video game – and this is something that hardly any math ed game designers appear to have done – is decide on your underlying pedagogy.
In broad terms, there are two approaches to mathematics teaching and learning: instructional and discovery. In the former, instruction and demonstration are typically provided by a teacher, a textbook, a video, or an instructional computer program. After which the student attempts to answer questions and solve problems. With discovery learning, the student is presented with a series of questions or challenges that guide a process of discovery. Though these are sometimes viewed as being in opposition, they need not be, and in fact good teachers use a combination of both, most commonly adopting a global discovery approach supported by on-demand instruction when the student is unable to move ahead.
While teachers can, and in many cases do, use elements of both pedagogic approaches as they think appropriate, educational media tend to be suited to one or the other. Traditional textbooks and educational videos (such as Kahn Academy) are essentially instructional media. They have to be, since they are unidirectional — pure delivery media that cannot react to the student’s actions. Educational computer programs can, of course, respond to the student’s actions, which offers some degree for discovery, but only to the extent that the student acts in a way that the programmer has anticipated and has scripted an appropriate response. Of course, there is nothing to stop a teacher using textbooks, videos, and computer programs as resources for discovery learning, and many do just that.
With video games, however, things are clear cut. By their very nature, they are all about exploration, discovery, and student-driven (i.e., player-driven) problem solving. This does not preclude instruction being given within the game, but unless it is done well, it can destroy the very game in which it occurs. The exploratory learning approach is where we should be directing our efforts. Having worked for almost five years on a stealth, math ed project in a large commercial video game company, taking the inquiry-based learning approach, I learned two things. One: it is definitely possible to design and build quality video games that are fun to play and help develop genuine mathematical reasoning skills. Two: it is extremely labor intensive and time consuming – hence expensive, which is why the project I worked on was cancelled before we had a releasable product.
On the other hand, we set out to build a game that (in its initial release) covered the entire mathematics curriculum at a particular grade level (with other grade levels to follow). With hindsight, we bit off far more than we could chew. We came away knowing that in these early days of designing quality math ed video games, it makes sense to do it piecewise, one curriculum topic at a time. Along with some colleagues from that project, I am now trying to do just that.
In my recent book Mathematics Education for a New Era: Video Games as a Medium for Learning, I discuss many of the fundamental educational issues that should be addressed if we are to take full advantage of the huge educational potential of video games. Though I do talk a bit about game design issues, most of my focus is on pedagogy. For one thing I am convinced of, after eight years thinking about these issues, is that it is not enough to simply combine traditional instructional pedagogy with video game technology. You have to design your pedagogy around the medium. Video games are not going to deliver much of a benefit if we view them as simply supplementary add-ons to the educational system we already have. They offer such great potential, we have to rethink the entire educational process.
Keith Devlin, Stanford University.
eLearning May 31st, 2011 Dorothy Phoenix Permalink
Immune Attack is a 3rd person shooter inside a human body. Players navigate a nanobot through a 3D environment of blood vessels and connective tissue in an attempt to save an ailing patient by retraining her non-functional immune cells. Along the way, students learn about the biological processes that enable macrophages and neutrophils – white blood cells – to detect and fight infections.
Dr. Melanie Stegman, a LEEF 2011 presenter, and the Federation of American Scientists are estatic that their preliminary evaluation of Immune Attack in classrooms across America have returned promising results!! Students are learning basic principles of cell and molecular biology just by playing.
Evaluate Immune Attack 2011. We need YOU!
To participate, please register at www.fas.org/immuneattack. The evaluation requires three 40-minute periods in a computer lab. You will need students and parents to sign consent forms. Your students will play Immune Attack or a control game once in week one and once in week two. Then your students will take an online survey in week two. Immune Attack works on any PC, with any versions of Windows (XP, Vista, and 7). Immune Attack does not work on the Macintosh operating system.
Data shows that students are learning the basic principles of cell biology and immunology. We need to increase our numbers to answer some important questions, such as, so non-gamer also learn from Immune Attack, or are they put off by the need to learn to fly a microbot. (So far they are not.) Students like playing Immune Attack because it feels like a real video game, involves flying and shows real details of cells and proteins inside the body.
We need some younger students, 5th-6th grades as well. (We still want 7-12th graders, too!) We have found that 7th grade students are learning similarly to 12th graders. We know that 5th and 6th grade students enjoy playing Immune Attack, so we want to know whether the game teaches them anything. Please help out!
eLearning May 19th, 2011 LEEF Permalink