January 2006


Welcome to Talking Favourites dot com and the final show for January 2006. And also for our site of the month which is education arcade dot org.


In this last show for January, we wanted to look at something quite new to many people. We are going to look at Alternate Reality Gaming and a new offshoot which is Alternate Reality Learning.

In Education Arcade, Jane McConigal of University of California at Berkeley gives a very interesting presentation in the conference video archive. Her presentation talks about Alternate Reality Learning within a symposium looking at gaming in informal online settings.

This is a very interesting development within informal learning and also within the domain of collaborative online learning. These are social networks almost distinct from learning communities or perhaps a community on a bigger scale.


It could be described as the extreme form of Blended Learning. It combines every kind of media you can think of and it involves people as themselves rather than being a character and they do collaborate rather than compete. It also uses technologies accessed anywhere in the public domain such as regular payphones, newspapers as well as computers.


The trick is to come up with a question that is beyond being something that can be solved easily and that needs help from others. In one example we looked at we noticed that a game started at Collective Detectives. From there was a link to another site that was part of the game. Only when you clicked on that site a message came up saying that this site was only viewable by those living in the United States. So, you could see straight away that you’d need to get in touch with someone over there to access the site and possibly to report back on it. This is how the social network and inter-dependencies are created and developed.


What is interesting about this approach and the presentation about it is that we see a way of researching this kind of informal learning experience through an ethnographic approach. Jane McConigal lived inside the gaming community and watched the development on behalf of the game designers.


The audience and participants number in hundreds of thousands and sometimes millions all over the world. Out of participation came fame and notoriety for some of the participants who even appeared on TV. If we have TV talent shows where members of the public appear singing some song or other in an attempt to become famous and we have newspapers reporting on them and creating new celebreties then you can see the same thing happening through online games.


What has this to do with learning? Well maybe we are learning new skills and epistemologies within the online environment and creating new arenas for new audiences. I don’t know. Some time ago I created a voluntary project for an online community to bring projects of personal interest to the community and to obtain support for those projects from the distributed membership. At the end of the project we created a site to report on the development work we’d done together as a bunch of volunteers interested in learning about each other and the work and interests of each other. Maybe we could re-construct a view of that as Alternate Reality Gaming or Learning. We had a project in India for example that involved someone working with very remote villages and trying to support them. The coordinator worked online with us to gather knowledge and resources in order to help this community. This was quite a simple exercise once we had a structure and some coordination but it did involve people scattered online all over the world working to help some others entirely offline. There was a person in India who proposed the project and coordinated it on behalf of the people in the remote village and that person acted as a bridge between the online community and the offline community.

Jane McConigal in her presentation says that design should involve a requirement to gather information from distributed locations or a need for a lot of people to do something specific. It can also involve story telling around a mystery according to Infocult – an online blog site. Infocult report that people involved in these games are collaboratively researching and reporting issues and findings in an effort to solve the mystery that has sprung up. The informal learning project in India also creates a story and it is a story that people could continue if they were interested. They could carry on searching for resources and even creating new projects. This again is very much in line with characteristics of alternate reality gaming and learning as described by Jane McConigal.


I am really stretching a point in re-conceptualising informal learning projects within online learning communities as alternate reality learning or gaming. It may however be a starting point for getting some sort of handle on this new phenomenon and some of the characteristics. It may be the beginnings of understanding and starting a dialogue around design of these kinds of open ended activities for those that don’t have the skills or knowledge to construct 3 dimensional virtual reality models. In many respects this is a whole new game we need to learn about.


In some respects this was present in the example of the online community helping the offline villagers in India. It needed a lot of widely distributed people to construct the resource collection. We gathered information from all over the Internet. We also did something at broadly the same time. That meant searching and finding and sharing resources for evaluation.


There is also this idea of different audiences here. The gamers mentioned earlier not only participated in TV shows as an external audience to the game or a new audience to the game. They also participated with internal audiences. The example of a community supporting an informal learning project in India also created a number of audiences. There was the villagers as one audience. There was the whole online community as another audience. The project participants who were all volunteers were also an audience and finally the whole internet can access and possibly learn about the projects by viewing the web site that reported on all the different informal learning projects within the online community.


It is easy to see that not only are these communities reporting on the game as part of playing but as with formal online collaborative learning there is extensive negotiation going on around issues, concerns and solutions. Participants also take on roles as they work on particular areas of the game causing them to become online reporters of on and offline game activities. In this way a new world of work and play is created simultaneously. As is a new world of learning too.



Hello everyone, and welcome to show number 9 looking at educationarcade.org. This is our site of the month for January 2006 and focused on games based learning.


In show 8, we introduced the site and we said why we’ve chosen this site. In this show we’re going to start by looking at the video archives from the 2005 Education Arcade Games in Education Conference that was held in Los Angeles.


The first video I want to comment upon is the one called Students Making Games. This was the 10 a.m. session on the Tuesday of the conference. And the reason I wanted to talk about this was to take the chance to look at the historical continuity that this represents.


Students have after all, been delivering seminars as a course requirement for some considerable time. With that in mind you can begin to see the idea of students making games as the latest manifestation of this pedagogical approach.


In my own studies I can recall being asked to create a lesson for myself or others to use the email system. We had to create the lesson using HyperCard which is just like PowerPoint only that was for a macintosh machine. We had not used HyperCard before so it meant that there was a host of learning going on around both the topic area and the delivery mechanism. I still hold on to the effectiveness of that strategy for learning.


In the first example of student lead seminars this is a student learning about a topic in order to teach peers. In the example of me teaching myself using HyperCard I was using technology to learn about two technologies.


This fits nicely into Pasks ideas about teachback wherein the teaching of others causes the learner to learn a topic and to re-order and synthesise what is being learned in order to teach it back to someone else.


It would be quite easy to imagine sharing those hypercard stacks with other students and in any case it had that key ingredient of an audience in that it was shared for assessment with the tutor. This helped to enhance the authenticity of the learning.

Anyway, in the video from the conference, this topic of students making games was discussed from different perspectives. One presenter talked about the different possibilities and approaches that students took to the creation of games. These included things like requiring the user or player to answer a question before being allowed to proceed. That kind of thing. At that moment you started to realise that there was the whole issue of games literacy coming in to play here as an important enabler for students or others to be able to create games. Other design approaches were also mentioned such as whether to construct a drill and skill game that had very clear simple and straight forward strategies to be engaged with by the learner. Or, whether the real challenge was to get them to produce more ambiguous open ended scenarios where things were less clear.


The topic of games literacy as a new kind of information literacy for modern times was mentioned by several speakers in this video. And it seems clear from the above examples that if learners are to be invited to construct games then they’ll need to know the possible range of formats and structures and designs from which they can choose as part of that literacy. They’ll also need tools to be able to execute those ideas and that has further additional requirements for technical skills to be able to use those tools.


This is fine if you are a computer studies student but it may be more problematic or time consuming for arts students for example.


What struck me about this issue was the idea of groups of students being involved in playing and possibly producing games. If we think of contemporary skills and practices in a networked environment then we must start to recognise the connectedness of people within and beyond the class structures. Here may be the answer to the skills and games literacy development. The idea that as part of that literacy is the ability to cooperate with others.


In a not unrelated way, another presenter talked about the idea of student groups not only producing games as part of their learning but also taking things a stage futher. In this example, the group produced the game and then took the additional responsibility of creating online publicity and support for the game. The students took a view of the rest of the school or university as part of their community and produced web sites and word documents to send as email attachments to others in the institution. You can start to see the idea of classes as less insular can’t you?


So, just as the internet means that we can all call upon local, regional and international resources so the class is re-positioned within the institution and that institution becomes a wider audience for the work to be shared and evaluated.


In the same way that an individual teaches themselves something in hypercard and then sends it to a teacher. In the same that an individual gives a seminar on a topic to fellow classmates. The group produces a game and then presents it online to the rest of organisation. Each time there is an authentic task partly because there is an audience and in this way we start to see that the networked environment and the idea of learning within such environments needs to recognise that connectivity. It needs to be recognised both at the level of resource availability which it probably is at the moment. But it needs to think of that connectivity as implying an audience for learning activities.


If we go back to the games conference video then it may be that we can see games and networked learning literacy as inter-connected. I don’t think you could realistically doubt it. But in the design of the games it might be possible for an arts assignment to produce a game in the form of a design. It might be then possible for the computing studies student to produce the implementation of that design. This overcomes the obvious limitations of the desire of some students to be able to produce these games and most importantly it provides further recognition of the need to think beyond the confines of the classroom and to recognise the connectedness between classes in an institution and beyond.


I know Betty Collis at the University of Twente has done this kind of thing for some time. She requires her students to make their work visible online and accessible to anyone on the internet. This is another example of the recognition of that connectedness.


We’ll stop there for this show. Please send your feedback to front desk at talking favourites dot com. And in the next show we’ll try some of the other resources on this fantastically rich site which is educationarcade.org .


Thank you for listening.  

Hello everyone. And a Happy New Year to you all from talking favourites dot com.


We are pleased to announce a new site of the month for January 2006. This one is Education Arcade. Again it is a games based learning site. We make no apology for this as we are becoming more and more certain that this is where this podcast will go in the future. We began last year by looking at Active Worlds. This was a virtual 3 dimensional multi user environment that had a gaming kind of feel to it. From there we looked at Serious Games and the conference and project resources that explored the potential and the developments in games based training and education.


It is a logical next step to look at games based learning in more detail and there is no where better to develop our exploration than at Education Arcade.


We will be looking at various resources at that site over the weeks ahead. We believe that this site is fabulously rich in resources containing video footage of the keynotes and main sessions as well as links to examples of screenshots etc. There are also discussion forums over there too. Lots for us to look at.


Like the last time on talking favourites, we are inviting an avatar to do the presentations. It feels like more fun to do it that way and entirely in the spirit of a look at games based learning. Why not avatar based podcasts as a kind of gaming in audio?


We welcome feedback on any preferences and feedback on the show to front desk at talking favourites dot com. If that feedback could be in audio so much the better and if you like you could even have an avatar or text to speach engine provide that response.

We’ll stop there but thank you for listening and a very happy new year to our growing number of listeners. More on Education Arcade coming soon. I’ve downloaded the videos and once i’ve sat through them I’ll have more to say.


If you get a chance to look at the site yourself it is at education arcade dot org. Goodbye for now.