#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

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.

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.