Seeking Out New Worlds and Civilizations: A Workshop for Strategic Design of Virtual Worlds Learning Programs

So yesterday was the first day of the workshop held for training into the design of virtual worlds learning programs. I must say it was really interesting, quite engaging and as always when it comes to virtual worlds I am really fascinated by how immersive they can get. I mean I was following the workshop, alone, from my office on a deserted campus, at 1130pm all the way through 0230am and honestly I came away buzzing with excitement and not in the least feeling myself doze off during the whole workshop. I mean, honestly, how many times have we sat through lectures throughout the day time or maybe early evening and literally nodded our heads off? I remember doing it so often. Lectures were often tedious, we were always so passively taking notes. I think this is still the norm for many. And there we were, twelve adults – all coming in from a day’s work, and all participating quite animatedly I believe.

So what did I take back with me after the first day of the workshop. Quite a number of things I would say:

  1. Planning is a huge success determinant – in everything – but especially when designing Virtual Worlds, and more especially when designing them for training and educational purposes.
  2. The business case which needs to be modelled has to reflect clear, practical and specific objectives. There is no room for theory and ambiguity in Virtual Worlds.
  3. Learning archetypes are an important consideration when designing virtual worlds for training. To this extent, you can visit my delicious bookmarks for a number of links to archetypes for 3D worlds but I found this slideshare presentation particularly concise and it does capture a number of important points.
  4. We have also spoken a bit about the importance of pedagogy in virtual worlds and how these worlds are network formations where learning is facilitated through the interactions created. I learn because I talk to others in the same way informal learning occurs in different settings. Therefore virtual worlds are not simply social space constructions but they represent a series of interactions which humans consume and thrive on at an alarming rate. The idea of supporting reflection is also important and features in a number of training programs. How do I understand what I have in order to make best use of what I have?
  5. But ultimately – the main target is – irrespective of the various learning archetypes some of which (like simulations) can only be done in virtual worlds, what do virtual worlds have to offer which face to face classroom interactions, and maybe LMS cannot?

My answer to that question is very simply immersion… leading to engagement in a way which is only possible to experience through these 3D worlds. I know this is an oversimplified statement. It warrants more research, and it warrants more study. That is what my study is all about really. However it starts from there. Me and my avatar are ready for another session tomorrow night. Together we support each other as we pull another late nighter 🙂

The Butterfly Effect – does it apply to Serious Games?

The Butterfly effect or the theory of Chaos. This is a great example of how one factor might lead to the inevitability of other factors triggering a series of events which lead to… Disruption!

And somehow in the protected world of Educators, Disruption is completely taboo. It is a subject which somehow cannot transpire. We, as Educators, are control freaks… we really are. Look at our classrooms, in tertiary education for example. Great example of complete control by the lecturer. Noone wanders off distant territories and if they do then they fail. And yet, what do we do? We preach creativity, we preach innovation… but are we serious?

I just read a very inspiring article by Simon Paul Atkinson: Serious Games and Social Media. It’s a great read and I truly believe firmly in what Mr Atkinson is saying. We have to stop fearing disruption. We have to stop fearing chaos. That is we have to stop, if we wish to truly deliver an education which is related to the 21st century way of living. We have been saying over and over again, and this comes up in the curricula and any form of educational reforms and policies. The latter stress the importance of creativity, fostering and nurturing critical abilities, higher order cognitive skills. Someone at a certain point rediscovered a buzzword, and a trend re-started. This trend, or the trend of games in Education, or serious games or virtual worlds, well this trend of playing games, is now finding its ways to schools but of course teachers are at a loss. On the one hand, they have rigid syllabuses in place, which they grip to as though they are life saving poles in the roughest seas. And on the other hand, they complain. They complain because whoever thinks up these syllabuses is not in contact with the reality which they face every day as they face each and every individual in their classrooms. And they are absolutely correct of course. How can I, as one individual, develop a plan, for the entire population across a country? This is what is happening in Malta. And yet, if one carries out any attempt of doing away with these syllabuses… ah then… panic will ensue. Because we are control freaks. We want to be in control and we want to constantly know we are on the right track. But what is the right track? Can this word be really and truly applied to Education? Can we really assimilate this one size fits all and categorise our students? And what about the teachers? What about their potential for creativity? What about their potential to deal with the different situations which arise in the classrooms?

And what is therefore so different with games? Why do some games succeed and others, aptly labelled as Edutainment, fail? Could it be a cause and effect similar to the Butterfly effect? Unpredictability, rules which are there but which are rather ambiguous, chaos… that is how learning occurs in games. It’s a survival of the fittest in games, and you can see it from the way gamers (serious gamers) handle their challenges. So what is with serious games and social media? Can these two somehow intertwine? Should they? Maybe yes, maybe not… maybe it depends on the context – on the individual needs. Let us stop controlling exactly what people learn and finally let people learn to survive. How can we teach them to learn? Social media, with its unpredictable directions, and serious games, with its distinct design elements which provide engagement, are two possible triggers for the chaos theory to take effect on Education. But we have to keep in mind that this is easier said than done. We need to loosen our grip and control over knowledge and deliver it to others.

My 2cents worth of thoughts…

Whilst reading about the London Riots I decided to write down my 2cents worth of thoughts about the matter. I am reading stuff now and of course what I read shows (and very rightfully) a sense of indignation, loss, despair and helplessness. People trying to react, some successfully – some not so successfully. The riot cleanup campaigns are in full blast, however people, especially outsiders are on the hunt for excuses, for justifications and for explanations of why this is all happening.

But I ask myself, are there? I mean rather than are there… can we just pinpoint this to one simple excuse or is this much more complex, much more than is apparent to the onlooker or to the people who are outside the circles of those stricken by the riots?

I have looked at the Twitter hashtag for London Riots and I was amazed and at times horrified reading about people bragging about their loots on this social network. Videos have been posted about the lootings, people are happy. Some people are commenting, this is real life ‘Grand Theft Auto’.

And then – lo an behold – there is the great justification. The rioters are all youngsters, kids as young as 11??!! and this has all happened because of Social Media and the impact it has on spreading rage, or information. This has all happened because our kids are playing these violent games, they are addicted to these games. This all happened because parents are not in control of their kids – could it be because parents work and therefore they don’t know where their kids are or what they are doing??!!!!

And again my thoughts on these ‘justifications’ if they can be so-called are that such excuses are completely irrational and they simply scratch the surface of deeper social problems. Connections, networks and the spread of virtually anything, both physically, emotionally and even meta-physically have existed since the birth of man. Phenomena, such as these which we are seeing now, have existed throughout the ages. The only difference is that now we have the means to really get a glimpse into what is going on in people’s lives all across the globe. The only difference is that now people feel they are connected across separate geographical distances. This isn’t about games, or the fact that kids or adults (which statistically represent the higher percentage of gamers across the globe) are immersed in these alternate realities. Because that is what most games do – and most gamers are aware of this – games allow you to create a reality which cannot be recreated physically. If there are people with mental problems who cannot distinguish the real from the virtual or the unreal, they will still react negatively irrespective of whether they play or not.

Journalists and commentators have remarked on the fact that Social Media and technology are to blame… just read a twitter comment which said: “Just heard Chief of Manchester Police (I think) describing young people with BlackBerries as ‘ants’ who must be ‘punished’. Don’t like this.” This is beyond the level of acceptance. Technology is revealing. Technology is connecting. Technology is the means… it is not the end.

These riots, revolutions, uprisals or whatever you want to call them, have been with us throughout decades, centuries and millennia. They will be with us for as long as we have members of the society leading a dissatisfied life. Maybe we should try to dig deeper and try to find the cause of this dissatisfaction. Although I would say that even that is too complex to contemplate. Because human nature is complex and the way people are connected is complex. The ways these connections affect people’s behaviour is something which is not dependent on one person, but on the whole network. What we can do is to think about how technology, which is pervasive and here to stay, can mitigate the threats that we as complex human beings create. And yet… that is more food for thought.