Second Wednesday – E-Learning Innovation: A vision for future learning

Serious Games Institute

Last week I attended the Second Wednesday event organised by the Serious Games Institute at the Coventry University Campus in London.

I must say that it was great and that unfortunately attendance was very poor. It was well managed, well organised, the speakers gave some interesting talks, but seeing that this was held in central London, one would have expected a larger audience.

Anyhow, I did jot down some notes taken from the speakers, who tried to do their best with such a low turnout and here it goes:

The first speaker to take the stage was Dr. Chris Yapp, a technology and policy futurologist… who you can also follow on Twitter. His presentation looked at the personalised world and how this is indeed impinging on learning in HE contexts. Through his presentation he traced a route for learning and for technology bringing these together in one essential question – ” What skills set do you need to create a world-class learning environment? ” He thus spoke at length about organisational culture and how the need to re-engineer the whole Education infrastructure drives the need towards learning which is “Lifelong, Life-wide, and Life-deep” – (I loved the use of those three words to characterise learning).

The second person was Chris Kempt of Kempt Ltd who according to their site are “one of the UK’s leading specialists in creating playful, engaging advertising creative – largely in the form of games. We strategize, develop, design and promote – all in house. Using viral, mobile and social media we create engagement with a global audience of millions and have been responsible for some of the most successful campaigns ever produced in our space.” You can also follow Chris Kempt on Twitter . Chris largely spoke about the role of play in learning, and how at Kempt they try to exploit this whole play issue to target and stimulate forms of learning. One very interesting concept which they ‘play’ around with (pun intended) is this: Would you prefer to pass on a serious message to people or would you prefer to inject a serious message into a possibly trivial situation and have it spread amongst people like wildfire? So basically their take is – do not try to sell learning as a package in an invasive way… do it subtly… in a very cool analogy, he spoke about imagining two people sitting at a bar having a beer and a salesman comes along, interrupts their easy conversation trying to sell them a product… he’d be completely ignored or sent off… now see this same situation happening inside the classroom. And therefore in comes the ‘informal level of teaching’ to the rescue. At Kempt they are working on some great projects. One is the Manshead’s School Link-Up Project which interestingly links up school, digital solutions and the community.

Dr. Julia Gaimster from the London College of Fashion, University of the Arts, London was on as the next speaker, with her very interesting illustration about the potential of virtual worlds for developing real life skills. With some 468m users registered on virtual worlds in 2010, and an estimated number of virtual worlds to rise up to 900 by the year 2012, one can really say that the world is indeed moving towards a more virtual space. One very important aspect which Dr Gaimster, emphasised was that virtual worlds should not be seen as the ‘next technology project, one needs to embark upon.’ Indeed virtual worlds are not meant to and should never be used to replicate the classroom. (I have to say that this argument stands for all uses of social networking tools, and technology in general). If such tools are made to replicate the real world classroom modalities, then they will fail… and with a big F. She also showed some interesting projects which they, (as the College of Fashion) are carrying out in OpenSim. (Very nice talk and also insightful).

Prof. Sarah de Freitas, from the Serious Games Institute, was the next speaker. She introduced the term “Gamification” for modern life and she also gave quite an insightful presentation about a new paradigm for learning vis-a-vis the way which games and immersive experiences are indeed shaping how we work, learn and play. So in this way, games become more of a process rather than a technology per se, and a way which offers multimodal possibilities for learning. Prof de Freitas spoke about two projects which the SGI are currently involved in and these included the quite massive scale evaluation study of the massively multiplayer online game ‘Code of Everand‘ [incidentally the URL is not working as on the publication date of this blog] which the Ministry of Transport commissioned for 9-13 year olds to raise more road safety awareness. The second serious game which Prof. de Freitas discussed was the MMORPG still being developed by SGI – RomaNova.

The last speaker for the day was Dr Albena Antonova, from Sofia in Bulgaria. She spoke mostly about the value added precepts of computer games in education. The concepts of active based learning and development of complex competences in an integrated environment is indeed quite appealing and in most cases found to be most effective. When serious games are developed to be used to train learners in a number of complex skills, they need to take into account a number of factors including decision taking, the ability to anticipate future actions, the interactions with other simulated characters, and the complex nature of the choices. She explained that one important challenge which serious games face in order to target the right skills is the codification of knowledge (which I believe is an interesting and vital component of the design of serious games). In the design phase, a suitable method to transfer of knowledge needs to be anticipated in a way which it transparently suits the needs and requirements of both the game and the person immersed inside the game.

The discussion which ensued combined all the aspects of the various keynote addresses and was thus quite lively. I do look forward to another Second Wednesday event but it would be so much more helpful, if 1) there would be a larger set of audience and 2) there would be wifi… my mac air, unfortunately doesn’t take cable connections.

The next event which  will be interesting to follow is one which is held In-world in Second Life (in fact it is called the ‘Virtual World Conference‘ and will be held on the 14th September 2011… so that is a date. More will follow about this on this blog site.

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