#ectel2014 Workshop – Learning Analytics for and in Serious Games; what I learned…

I feel really good that this year I had the opportunity to attend and participate at the 9th European Conference on Technology Enhanced Learning, EC-TEL 2014. I have to say that so far it has been an interesting experience and I have had some very good conversations but I have also sat in on some very good presentations. I wanted to collate some of my thoughts and reflections about a workshop which I have attended yesterday about learning analytics for and in serious games. Now I have to state that in my own PhD work, I also make use of some learning analytics, focusing on the emergence of social networks in virtual worlds. However I am still a bit skeptic when people make sweeping statements about learning analytics and how they in fact can be used to determine the learning that takes place in an online/digital environment. Still, some of the talks in this workshop have indeed very clearly stated that learning analytics is certainly not about defining the learning occurring, but more about understanding how the learning trajectory evolves.

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

Christina Steiner during her presentation at EC-TEL 2014, 17th September 2014

The first presentation, was a comprehensive overview of learning analytics and educational data mining and the current and future research trends in the area. The speaker, Christina Steiner described how one of the key factors driving LA, is assessment defining it as the gathering of information about a learner’s progress towards the achievement of goals and relative competences. So LA comes into play to make sense out of all the learner’s data as he traverses an online environment. Learning analytics and educational data mining have some common goals and similar definitions relating to the collection and collation of data about learners. However educational data mining emphasises automated adaptation and recommendations of a personalised learning experience. LA can be made use of in different time scales. It can be used to report what has happened (past), it can also be used to monitor (real-time progress), and it can also serve to predict (possible?) future learning issues. It is made up of 3 stages; collection, visualisation and predictive modelling, and improving on the LA process. So the main stakeholders in this are learners and teachers.

However this provokes in me some thoughts and questions: would analytics apply to all learning processes, and all learning domains? How accurate would the predictions be? Do they really predict and model learning? If a student has opened a resource, or maybe visited a site, or even uploaded an assignment or completed a quiz, can we really say that that learner has learned? Would he really have learned everything we had in mind as goals?

Let’s say that I, as a teacher, think that by performing an online activity, the learner would achieve a set objective. Therefore when I design and set up my LA process, I know that I would be measuring the student performance in line with that goal. However I believe learning is not linear. I know and everyone knows learning is a complex mesh that is very much dependent not the many experiences the learner goes through. So how can I say that a learner is advancing his progress (or vice versa) by ticking the box that the learner has gone through the activity? What sort of tools would I have to monitor what other additional skills and competencies that learner has attained by maybe going further than that activity? Maybe that activity was boring to the learner and he skipped it but that activity has prompted him to search further, and to investigate deeper than the activity. Where would that place the learner? In my books, that learner demonstrates a good critical skill set, but what about the system? Are we risking to going back to standardising learning with the inclusion of learning analytics to assess learning?

However Christina Steiner ended her talk with a very important consideration, “Serious games” she says. “should be considered as part of multiple learning tools and activities. We’re looking towards data integration not isolation”. I think we should keep this in mind. Data is only part of the larger picture, and we need to understand the larger picture to be able to fully understand learning. So what I would like to understand more is about the role that serious games have in and for learning and ways in which can we exploit the information we gather from them to improve upon and provide a richer learning experience.
The rest of the presentations gave an interesting mix of how games were assessing different skill sets and competences. One final word goes to Laila Shoukry, who delivered a really cool presentation containing her own sketches directly from her smart phone. Good luck for your own PhD Laila!

Coop Gaming on the rise

See on Scoop.ittech to learn

“2012 was an watershed year in coop gaming. Minecraft – a sandbox game with no tutorial, hints, badges, levelups, or assigned missions – became a massive worldwide hit, raking in $80M amd evolving into a platform used by middle-school educators to teach collaboration in the classroom.  Foldit – a science game that enlists players to solve real-world protein-folding puzzles – announced that a self-organized team of expert players had solved an HIV structural puzzle that had stumped scientists for 10 years. And Kickstarter – a crowdfunding website that combines the power of peer networks with coop game mechanics – raised more arts funding $$ than the National Endowment for the Arts.


What’s going on here? These innovative, genre-busting games and services are early signs of the coming wave of NonZero Gaming – games and services where people SUCCEED by banding together in service of a larger goal or cause.”

See on amyjokim.com

Principles of Game-like Learning – my reflections from Katie Salen’s Webinar #ConnectedLearning

Yesterday I was asked to participate in a Webinar organised by Connected Learning with the title: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning

Katie Salen was to be the featured speaker for the Webinar and the participant list is impressive. I have to say that it was an honour for me to be there alongside with Howard Rheingold, Cathie Howe, Randall Fujimoto and Katie Salen of course; all people who I follow and network with.

We might start asking the question “Why?”

Why does one choose the principles of game design, and apply them to learning? or even better, is there a true need for this? and why is there such a need for this? Does this all really mean that one simply inserts a couple of games into the school structure and hope for success? The answers to these questions can be found by following the Webinar which you can access from this link, but I have tried to post my own reflections here in this blog.

The Webinar started with a presentation by Katie Salen, as she went through the different aspects which drive learning projects like Quest to Learn as well as the new sister school in Chicago. The driving vision which emerges from these projects as well as from other projects concocted by the Institute of Play is that of a ‘connected learning‘, that overcomes the barriers that exist between learning and living. One of the first questions which triggered the set up of both schools, was ‘In what ways can the principles game design contribute to the design of connected learning?’

This posits a whole new dimension to the theories of learning and the theories of engagement as suddenly these are defined in terms of provocations, shifting the way people are indeed connected to the world. The design of learning within the school then takes on a different pathway, as all the parts of the learning system need to be redefined and re-dimensioned according to the holistic nature of the complex learning mechanisms.

Katie Salen, described games as beautiful models of systems, whereby in a dynamic system, having different choices, or altering rules, has an impact on the whole system. Therefore when we look at an Educational system, we cannot just take that which is considered to be only a small part of the system.

Recently there was TV program here in Malta on National TV and the main focus was the issue of teachers within the school system. The questions seemed to imply that the failures attributed t0 an Educational system are due to the teachers, the working conditions and even the way they are trained. In fact, if we apply the core principles of game design, and extrapolate them to an Educational system, the teachers themselves are only a wheel driving the system made up of many more components that are not only intertwined but are also heavily inter-dependent on each other. Therefore in answer to the question asked above, ‘can we just insert a couple of games and hope for success?’ – the answer is an emphatic NO.

In Katie Salen’s own words, we need to rethink schools in terms not just of classes and classroom space, but also in philosophical underpinnings, in terms of the pedagogy, in terms of leadership, of parents’ influence and interactions. The principles which game designers focus on, and which Katie Salen and her team took into consideration in the Quest to Learn project, were four and included:

  1. Create the need to know;
  2. Offer a space of possibility;
  3. Build opportunities for authority and the expertise to be shared;
  4. Support multiple, overlapping pathways towards mastery.

As one can note, these design principles, although being those which game designers tend to follow when designing successful games, can be easily extrapolated to schools and a design for learning.

So if we take the first principle, when designing learning, one needs to create that hunger to learn, to know, to achieve something without having to be told what one has to know, or even worse what one needs to know. At this moment, if we take into consideration, for example certain topics, say Fractions or decimals, most teaching is done around the fact that the students will have to answer a question or two about fractions and decimals in the exam paper, and that with enough practice, the students would be able to answer those questions, even blindfolded. At least, that is the way I have been taught and that is the way which I observe many people teaching even now. So Katie asks, what if, instead, we present students with interesting complex problems based on fractions or decimals, that actually the kids will need to know, without us having really to tell them that they are and they need to learn how to do fractions? It’s a tough challenge, and it requires brains, but I am sure the with the right professional attitude, teachers are more than equipped with the skills to transform this kind of learning.

When designing learning, when designing “syllabi” or these new curricula which are being designed for the state schools in Malta, can we really get to start with the content and try to move beyond. My observations of these ‘curricula’ is that the people who are doing them are really starting from the content and stopping there. In a connected learning model, we need to provide the space for people to grow and to mature in their quest for knowledge, and therefore we also need to design multiple ways of reaching content competencies. This is also why the discussion touched upon assessments and ways in which such competencies can ultimately be assessed.

A learning system, guided by these principles cannot be built on standardised forms of assessment only, and these standardised forms of assessment cannot be the driving force behind the content and how this is moulded throughout the kids’ growing years. In a connected learning model, knowledge sharing is giving priority over knowledge transfer and thus the teaching model, will merge slowly into a mentoring model, where kids have the freedom to grow and share with us their daily learning experiences. A beautiful target that all of us as Educators should wish to aspire to, I would say.

So, my final comment, following this Webinar – it was too short 🙂 I would have spent hours hanging out there learning from all the people who participated. I would like to offer my thanks to everyone, once again and hope to catch up with everyone soon to take on the discussions further.

Katie Salen – Webinar: Tuesday, April 24, 10:00am PST

I am very honoured to have been invited to participate to a Webinar organised by the Digital Media & Learning Research Hub which will be held on Tuesday 24th April at 1000AM PST (1800 CET).

Katie Salen will be present at this Webinar whose main focus will be: Making Learning Irresistible: 6 Principles of Game-like Learning. More information can be found here.  Katie Salen is the Professor of Design and Technology, and Director of the Center for Transformative Media at Parsons the New School for Design. She also runs a non-profit called the Institute of Play that is focused on games and learning, and is co-editor of the International Journal of Learning and Media.

This Webinar will also feature a Livestream Channel Chat and Twitter hash Tag (#connectedlearning) for those who wish to participate.

Looking forward to next Tuesday – hope that many can join in!

Alternate Reality Games – My reflections from PELeCON 2012

Before actually writing about the second day at PELECON, I would like to reflect a bit upon Helen Keegan’s spotlight talk and which I – together with, I would guess, the rest of the participants here at PELECON, just absolutely loved. Helen Keegan described an Alternate Reality Game which she literally pulled on her students – students who were following a BSc Professional Sound and Video Technology, Advanced Multimedia module.

Now, even the phrase pull on one’s students starts triggering ethical questions… should I? Shouldn’t I? Ethics in Education seems to be a very sore point and at times I feel that many Educators and researchers hide behind the ethics cover to justify their lack of innovation in approach and their need for standardization throughout.

In fact Helen said many things which one needs to ponder on. For example 1) learning initially sparked off from a sense of paranoia (student tweets showed that some got really scared that an unknown person had actually started sending them confused information messages)  – what does this mean and imply? 2) one needs to be willing to take certain amounts of risks. This is a very interesting point. I find, sadly I must say that I am surrounded by many academics who are not willing to take risks. As my  colleague Alex Grech says, people just fall into the Gramscian Hegemony – many love the ‘status quo’. One does appreciate, that ‘status quo’ implies stability – the known, the experienced. But the unknown is fearsome, might be chaotic – who knows? and that is particularly the question which really really somehow needs to make its way into our learners’ brain. WHO KNOWS IF?
Anyway this who knows kind of attitude, featured particularly in Helen Keegan’s ARG game (for more info about ARGs visit this link). Students were deceived, the ARG rules do declare the need for a degree of deception, into believing that this person, the famous or infamous Rufi Franzen, had actually hacked into their lives and was disseminating bits of code and information which they had to take as clues to solve a puzzle which they had no idea what it was, or why it was done. They were just asked to “join the dots”. What they had no idea of was, that the actual module curriculum, was indeed being followed. As Helen Keegan said – “It took a lot of effort to balance the curriculum with the wild wild west”. The students were indeed doing what is normally covered in the course, albeit following it in an entirely different way. What the students didn’t realize was that rather than having their lecturer tell them that they need to watch 20 videos, (for which they wouldn’t be assessed and which in all probability none would have watched), it was the mysterious Rufi that actually told them that they had so many clues in these videos and one learner after the other, started watching these videos more closely, more attentively to try and solve the conundrum. In the end the ARG culminated in a rather theatrical display which the students loved and which I believe does make some justice to all the hard work thinking through the problems which were posed throughout the 12 week course duration.
However the learning that occurred via this ARG, as testified by the students themselves, took them to a so much deeper level that so amount of theatrical display can actually make up for it. Students were immersed in such a way that it took them ages, (for some it was really hard to stop playing the game) to realize that after all they were “conned” into learning. For many, Rufi was someone who was a “real” presence throughout the course, even though Rufi was completely imaginary! So much for behavioral change that is directly related to the perceptions in the mind. This idea of immersion, whether it is through a virtual world or an alternate reality game is an aspect of cognitive science which I am very interested in exploring – and I am already thinking of ways of how to do this with my own pre-service teachers. I wonder though – am I really willing to take the plunge and risk? Will I find partners who will support this leap in the dark? And as Helen said, “is such an approach justified for the sake of Education?” Hmmm – yes…and now to some serious thinking stuff…how shall I do it?