August 20, 2016
by Campbell
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Monopoly

Oh Monopoly. It’s the game that seemingly most board game geeks hate. Of course, everyone also plays it completely wrong, and just adds to eventual frustration of it. So while placing collected taxes on Free Parking may seem like you are doing everyone a favor, the game only works by the removal of money from the system, not by adding it back into the game.
But, after reading this interview with the US Monopoly coach, I now realize how COMPLETELY wrong people play the game even if they are hardcore rules Nazis.

Most people view Monopoly as a game where you move around a board, collect some property, and build on them, with a little trading involved. When played at the tournament level, however, the game is almost solely based on trading; moving around the board just sort of randomizes which properties you start with, and who you have to pay when you land of other player’s properties. The entire focus of the game has changed while still keeping the same rules. This is the equivalent to professional poker players who, after enough time under their belt, don’t even care what the cards are, and instead only play player’s reactions. You’re still playing poker, but playing at a completely different level with access to a whole different set of information.
However, it should be noted that there’s a big difference between the two. Poker is a fairly quiet, solitary experience at this point. Studying and reading your opponent intensely requires quite a bit of concentration and understanding of tells. And everyone THINKS they can do it. This can easily be accomplished no matter what the joviality rating is at any table; primarily because it is an individual talent.

Playing a game of high stakes trading Monopoly requires a whole table of people willing to trade. Unless you have the capabilities of the shrewedest, slickest used car salesman alive, trying to spin 3-way deals probably will get you nowhere. If you are trying to give 4 loosely gathered properties to someone just for Electric Company, which you can then bundle with Illinois to someone else, you will most likely end up with a lot of uneasy trust issues and have the deal blocked. I think that everyone who’s played Monopoly grew up playing it so straight and conservative are more than willing to lose the game to ” that bad dice roll” than accepting the fact that they potentially got “swindled” at some point.

Assessment

August 5, 2016
by Campbell
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Assessment

Been a while since I have been writing here and also doing stuff on online learning and educational multimedia production. This post is all about an important component of good educational media and that is, Assessment. Assessment is the process of gathering and interpreting evidence to make judgements about student learning. It is the crucial link between learning outcomes, content and teaching and learning activities. Assessment is used by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are at in their learning, where they need to go, and how best to get there. The purpose of assessment is to improve learning, inform teaching, help students achieve the highest standards they can and provide meaningful reports on students’ achievement.

Assessment can be what is called a formative and/or a summative process. Formative assessment is used to provide feedback to students and teachers to promote further learning. Summative assessment contributes to the judgement of student learning for reporting and certification purposes. Formative assessment – is assessment for learning. It is used at the beginning of an instructional sequence and during the process of instruction as teachers check for student understanding. Diagnostic tools determine what students already know and where there are gaps and misconceptions. Formative assessment also includes assessment as learning, where students reflect on and monitor their own progress. Where as, Summative assessment is assessment of learning. It is used near the end of the instruction sequence. Summative assessment information provides educators with the information about how effective their teaching strategies have been, time needed for instruction and how to improve teaching for future students.

Then there is this thing called Recognition for Prior Learning or RPL. RPL is an assessment technique which is used to measure whether a candidate’s work, education and life experiences enable them to meet the levels of competence outlined in standards such as units of competence. It gives people the opportunity to gain formal recognition for their knowledge and skills without attending structured training classes. This competence may have been gained through life or work experiences, learning in informal settings or formal studies.

Computer Repair

July 4, 2016
by Campbell
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Computer Woes

Last week my Windows 7 machine stopped booting. I would hit the on switch and the fans would rev up and… nothing else would ever happen. Hmmmm! That is NEVER a good sign. The desktop machine was designed to be my work machine originally (well, before I got my Macintosh laptop hahahah), and it has two high-end PCI-E 16x Nvidia cards SLI’d together, and two hard drives RAIDed together in stripe mode to improve my video and 3D rendering performance. So yesterday when it crapped out my first thought was “oh god, the RAID…” When my XP machine died in March during the move, recovering the data from the RAID was a really fun adventure (NOT!).

So I started down the path, swapping memory modules, unplugging the DVD drive, pulling out the video cards, unplugging the hard drives… all manner of things, none of which had any effect whatsoever. Ohhhh great. Recalling the many times I have screwed something up on the computer because I was frustrated and tired, I decided to call it a night. So tonight I pulled the machine out from the desk, set it up on the table, and untangled all the cables inside. Got it down to one memory module, no video card, no hard drives. I figured it should at least beep on boot. Nope. After a cup of milo, I grabbed the screwdriver and yanked the motherboard. By this point I figured I was dealing with either a frotzed CPU, motherboard, or power supply. Or maybe the motherboard was grounding against the case somehow. The easiest way to figure it out would be to pull all the parts out and slowly replace them one by one in a controlled environment.
But first, to rule out the grounding – I set the motherboard on some standoffs over the top of an antistatic mat, plugged the power supply into it and nothing else and… hey, it beeped!
Woohoo!
Okay, well, whatever was causing the problem seems to have something to do with the case. So I pulled all the motherboard standoffs out of the case, re-bent and re-oriented them, duct-taped them in, and used smaller screws to reduce the likelihood of shorting the motherboard out with them. After putting the machine back together along with the power supply, a stick of memory, and one video card, it still beeped and booted. Yay! After another hour or so everything was put back together (minus one video card) and the machine still seems to be working just fine. Except… it doesn’t recognize the RAID. Ohhhhh great.
After 10 minutes digging through the SATALink and BIOS manuals, I realized I likely just needed to toggle a couple flags in the BIOS (I had reset the CMOS earlier in the adventure). Sure enough, after a toggle and a reboot, it’s all working again. But I left one of the video cards out since I don’t use the Vista machine much for gaming these days.

Ahhh nice to have that sorted out!

But here I am again, having narrowly escaped death, wondering why I bother to keep personal data on my PC at all. Lucky, my old friend Duncan gifted me with this box, I have called BEAST. It is fantastic. It is super quiet and very speedy. It just sits out there attached to my home network and serves up my files, and it’s very easy to access from the network, or even the Xbox 360 talks to it for that matter (for music, photos, and videos/netflix). I need to set up backups but this seems like the perfect answer to me these days. Because I’m working on technology on the PC, I do a lot of updates to my PC software and hardware, so the chance for a system crash is high. Why not keep just my applications and games on the PC, and whatever files I’m working on at the moment, and put all the rest of my data up on the server? I think that’s what I will set up next.

This does give me pause though, and makes me think more about the idea of using Internet compute clouds, or running applications over the net like Google Docs. I hate giving up THAT much control over my PC environment, but it sure would be easier to just have all my apps out on the net, and all my data on my Home Server, and a very dumb but fast home PC. Hmmmm someday… we’ll see. For now I have about 4Tb of data to try copy over to the server.

CPD

January 20, 2016
by Campbell
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CPD

At work lately, I have been privileged to work on a Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program. For those that don’t know the philosophy of CPD, as a member of some companies/professional bodies, you must understand the value of life-long learning. Some companies/professional bodies there is an obligation to participate in continuing professional development (CPD) as part of your membership, and as the name suggests it ensures the learner continually builds the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in achieving their development and career goals.

I think CPD is a great program, as it increases value to your organisation and your clients, knowing that you have transferable skills and it also helps to build reputation as a business leader/consultant. The financial industry (which I am developing the CPD for) has in general been proactive in pushing towards attaining its status as a profession rather than a trade, and education standards are a key component of that, and as a result where degree qualified financial planners are the rule rather than the exception and come June, it will be mandatory. The industry staple qualification for compliance is the Diploma of Financial Services. Another key component is a proposed requirement for all financial advisers to complete a knowledge update review every three years to stay on top of rule changes, market issues and new products.

In the past, when I have asked professionals about the learning they access during the course of their careers, it seems that subject-specific CPD often takes a lower priority than their other training and development. For me, I find this is concerning. Without regular updates of the latest in pedagogy and content for a subject especially in public facing roles like financial planners, lawyers, accountants or even the medical field, there is a high risk that the content will be inaccurate and possibly put others at risk too.

Time is a precious commodity in any industry, and often the idea of putting aside an entire day, or two, for a professional development session can seem impossible. There is also the added trouble of trying to find a day that suits everyone. So, I am glad that I am working in online learning, where one of the real benefits can be seen – you can study whenever you want. So instead of having to put aside an entire day, you just need to find an hour here and there. Traditional workplace education includes educator costs, catering costs, often room hire costs and also the costs of covering shifts so other staff members can attend the training. However, with online learning these costs are removed. There is usually just a per person enrollment fee, which is often quite low when there are large groups getting trained.

Also within online learning it goes without saying that the broader community expects that the requisite skills and knowledge have been obtained in order to deliver service to a professional standard. Hence, CPD is a great model in order for those skills and knowledge to be obtained.

November 24, 2015
by Campbell
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Mini game tips

I was thinking the other day, how I could I make some quick little wins for some eLearning solutions, so I could maybe modulise and integrate into some solutions. I thought of minigames.

For those that don’t know, a minigame is a simple game created to provide variety and represent simple activities. From my research many minigames are based on or are variations of classic arcade and classic home console games. Let me clarify, a microgame is a minigame that takes seconds to play. Half of the challenge of microgames is learning how to play them within the short time allotted. Warioware and the likes in Mario Party are compilations of microgames.

Minigames offer many advantages to game developers. They are quick to create and test, they are easy to play, and they can be used as metaphors for complex player activities. I truly believe ANY activity can be represented by a minigame. For example:

• Lockpicking: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (2K, 2006)
• Hacking electronics: Batman: Arkham Asylum (WBI, 2009)
• Portrait painting: Spongebob Atlantis Squarepantis (THQ, 2008)
• Tagging walls: The Warriors (Rockstar, 2005)
• Cooking dinner: Cooking Mama (Majesco, 2006)
• Serving dinner: Diner Dash (Playfirst, 2003)

When designing a minigame, make sure to:

• Keep the controls simple. Minigames by their nature imply easy- to – learn
gameplay.
• Keep the gameplay sessions short. No longer than 5 to 10 minutes. Microgames can last only a few seconds long.
• How does progression work? It is designed or random? Ramp the difficulty gently. Minigames are meant to provide variety, not torture the player.
• Add new elements with each progression. Progression doesn’t mean every level: it can be a grouping of levels. Progression can represent a major element like a new weapon or enemy or minor like a change in an enemy’s movement pattern or bonus modifier. Even a different background art, sound effect, or song keeps the game from getting stale or repetitive.
• Consider limiting the minigame’s controls to only a few buttons. Assign only one action per button or control stick to keep control schemes simple.
• If possible, allow for player customization. The web – based minigame Upgrade Complete (Kongregate, 2009) allows the player to upgrade EVERYTHING, including the player’s ship, the background graphics, and even the copyright screen!
• How does your minigame end? Does it have an end? Make sure the victory condition is clear to the player. Some games can be played “forever” — or at least until the kill screen appears.

Minigames don’t even need to be segregated from the core game. The platformer/puzzle game Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure (EA Games, 2009) and the RPG/puzzle game Puzzle Quest (D3, 2007) combine two styles of gameplay; platforming and puzzle. If you do this in your own game, just make sure you allow time for the player to make a “brain shift” between the two gaming styles; give them a second to reorient themselves with a “ready” screen or pause in the action.

Einstein

November 23, 2015
by Campbell
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E=MC^5

A lot of people know about the Albert Einstein famous E=MC2 formula. But here is a formula for learner engagement that I came across on my research, that I found pretty cool. E=MC5 The formula appears in an article by Gregg Collins in the Spring issue of Training Industry magazine titled How Games Drive Learning. This is what I got out of the article.

E = Education. To me, this can relate to learner “engagement”.

M = Mission. Building a learning experience around a “mission” will create learner commitment to accomplish a task or achieve a goal as the focus of the learning. It is known that games and simulations are built around missions, and the learners often compete with each other. From my point of view, competition elicits maximum effort – what we call the learner’s “A game”. And from what Dr. Collins says, effort and challenge are directly linked to learning effectiveness and retention.

C for Context. Games and simulations are effective because learners gain knowledge and build skills by “doing”. The learning context must be robust enough to allow learners to practice the skill or apply the knowledge. This is not about “telling” them, or memorization.

C for Challenge. As we all know, traditional elearning has the stigma that it is “boring”. This often means learners simply aren’t challenged. Learners build skills and apply knowledge by overcoming challenges as part of the learning. The challenges should be increasingly difficult as the training progresses, enough so learners don’t get bored, but not so much that they get frustrated.

C for Choice. Not as in multiple choice but as in decisions they must make as they learn. The best games and simulations are engaging because the learner sees the impact of their decisions immediately as the scenario plays out, and can get diagnostic feedback detailing any wrong choices they made, and why they were wrong.

C for Consequences. Games and simulations clearly show the consequences of each choice, both positive and negative. Playing out the scenario in the challenge to illustrate the impact on the mission and context is a great way to build cognitive thinking and experience in the knowledge area or skill. Therefore, increasing the likelihood learning will be leveraged effectively back on the job.

C for Competition. A few eLearning professionals are hesitant about including competition in learning, but really, they should not be. Competing is a core human thing, and the desire to do well – whether it is via leader board scores, badges, or other forms of achievement – have been with us since childhood. Especially here in Australia with the huge amounts of sport forced on us at school. Competing produces more effort, more cognitive work and more learning.

E=MC&super;5. So,maybe include these elements in training that you do not have games or simulations in place. I think it will increase your student engagement and education.

November 18, 2015
by Campbell
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Conflicted

For those in the know, there are two big Ds in the world of eLearning. A lot of people ask me, where do I place myself? Am I a designer or a developer? Completely different topics, but still one thing in the end. To me, it feels like the number of people who are doing development as well as design simultaneously is increasing rapidly. Nobody wants to just be really good at one thing instead of being so-so great on two domains. When I ask them why, they mostly tell me that it’s good to know about development when you’re designing something, for example (or the other way around). Because then, you can shape the idea so that it’s easy to realize it with code – and I agree with them. I would also like to design more of my projects and while I learn from other people, I keep getting better in doing so. But I also noticed a weird aspect of the whole dilemma: When I get an idea and I think it’s a great one, I often try to sketch something up and then make a wire-frame out of it. The only problem with this approach is that while I try to design, my brain tries to shape the idea until it fits my development experiences & the knowledge I had at this time. It feels like my subconscious mind just cuts some parts off the initial idea. While talking about new projects and ideas with other people in the industry, I noticed that they’re also affected by this same situation. And I think many other people who work in two different topics also apply this way of thinking while making up an idea. Where do most of you all put yourselves? Which camp are you in? Designer or Developer?

November 14, 2015
by Campbell
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Fun

Today I thought I would talk a little bit about this elusive concept of “fun.” Games, we are told, are supposed to be fun. The role of a eLearning designer is, in most cases, to take something and make it fun. I use the word “fun” a lot and I usually enclose the word “fun” in quotation marks, on purpose. My reasoning is that “fun” is not a particularly useful word for eLearning designers. We instinctively know what it means, sure, but the word tells us nothing about how to create fun. What is fun? Where does it come from? What makes games fun in the first place? Decisions can look like they might be fun. Is that all there is to it? Not entirely, because it doesn’t say anything about why these kinds of decisions are fun. Or why uninteresting decisions are still fun for children. For this, we turn to Raph Koster. What a lot of Koster’s Theory of Fun boils down to is this: the fun of games comes from skill mastery. This is a pretty radical statement, because it equates “fun” with “learning”… and at least when I was growing up, we were all accustomed to regard “learning” with “school” which was about as not fun as you could get. So it deserves a little explanation.

Theory of Fun draws heavily on the work of psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who studied what he called the mental state of “flow” (we sometimes call it being “in the flow” or “in the zone”). This is a state of extreme focus of attention, where you tune out everything except the task you’re concentrating on, you become highly productive, and your brain gives you a shot of neurochemicals that is pleasurable – being in a flow state is literally a natural high. Csikszentmihalyi identified three requirements for a flow state to exist:

• You must be performing a challenging activity that requires skill.
• The activity must provide clear goals and feedback.
• The outcome is uncertain but can be influenced by your actions. (Csikszentmihalyi calls this the “paradox of control”: you are in control of your actions which gives you indirect
control over the outcome, but you do not have direct control over the outcome.)

If you think about it, these requirements make sense. Why would your brain need to enter a flow state to begin with, blocking out all extraneous stimuli and hyper-focusing your attention on one activity? It would only do this if it needs to in order to succeed at the task. What conditions would there have to be for a flow state to make the difference between success and failure? See above – you’d need to be able to influence the activity through your skill towards a known goal.

Csikszentmihalyi also gave five effects of being in a flow state:

• A merging of action and awareness: spontaneous, automatic action/reaction. In other words, you go on autopilot, doing things without thinking about them. (In fact, your brain is moving faster than the speed of thought – think of a time when you played a game like Tetris and got into a flow state, and then at some point it occurred to you that you were doing really well, and then you wondered how you could keep up with the blocks falling so fast, and as soon as you started to think about it the blocks were moving too fast and you lost. Or maybe that’s just me.)
• Concentration on immediate tasks: complete focus, without any mind-wandering. You are not thinking about long-term tradeoffs or other tasks; your mind is in the here-and-now, because it has to be.
• Loss of awareness of self, loss of ego. When you are in a flow state, you become one with your surroundings (in a Zen way, I suppose).
• There is a distorted sense of time. Strangely, this can go both ways. In some cases, such as my Tetris example, time can seem to slow down and things seem to happen in slow motion. Actually, what is happening is that your brain is acting so efficiently that it is working faster; everything else is still going at the same speed, but you are seeing things from your own point of reference.) Other times, time can seem to speed up; a common example is sitting down to play a game for “just five minutes”… and then six hours later, suddenly becoming aware that you burned away your whole evening.
• The experience of the activity is an end in itself; it is done for its own sake and not for an external reward. Again, this feeds into the whole “here-and-now” thing, as you are not in a mental state where you can think that far ahead.

I find it ironic, when a typical kid is in their “not now, I’m playing a game” mental state, the parent complains that they are “zoned out.” In fact, the gamer is in a flow state, and they are “zoned in” to the game.

All this says is that if you have a high skill level and are given an easy task, you’re bored; if you have a low skill level and are given a difficult task, you’re frustrated; but if the challenge level of an activity is comparable to your current skill level… flow state! And this is good for games, because this is where a lot of the fun of games comes from.
Note that “flow” and “fun” are not synonyms, although they are related. You can be in a flow state without playing a game (and in fact without having fun). For example, an office worker
might get into a flow state while filling out a series of forms. They may be operating at the edge of their ability in filling out the forms as efficiently as possible, but there may not be any real learning going on, and the process may not be fun, merely meditative. (Thanks to Raph for clarifying this for me.)

Games just happen to be naturally good at putting players in a flow state, so it is much easier to design a fun game than a fun course in Calculus. As Koster points out in A Theory of Fun, the
brain is a great pattern-matching machine, and it is the finding and understanding of patterns that is what is happening when our brain is in a flow state. I think games bring this out really well because you have three levels of patterns: feeling the Aesthetics, discerning the Dynamics, and finally mastering the Mechanics (in the MDA sense). Since every game has these three layers of patterns, games are three times as interesting as most other activities.