Colin's Sandbox

Archive for January, 2014

Reflections on #etlead, Week 2

by on Jan.28, 2014, under #etlead

Running Behind!  But still running…

The #gamifi-ED effort has been pretty fun to be a part of and I’m itching to get into the actual work.  What I’m finding more and more is that the life of the EdTech Student is one of communicating more than one of actually rolling up the sleeves.  That’s OK, but by my nature I’ve been one who needs a certain amount of “lab time” in order feel whole.  I’m itching to dive into the meat of game development, but I need to balance that with the realization that if you aren’t communicating and working with everyone on the project routinely than your work exists solely in isolation.

How I’ve helped others, and how others have helped me

This week has been a less than enthusiastic week for me as far as reading other students’ work.  I’ve gotten into this trap in previous courses before, and without reading others’ work I lose out on the sense of community. There’s a sense of reciprocity that you see: you respond to people’s writings and they tend to come your way.  Makes sense!

I have however spent a little bit of time editing our #gamifi-ED wiki page in order to list out criteria that I feel matters most.  I felt that the Twitter session was invaluable to this generation – without the input from others I would not have come up with nearly the depth of criteria.

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Planning for the Future

by on Jan.27, 2014, under #digitalcitizenship

When you ask, “How do you plan for the future?” in the light of the quickly changing face of technology you’re likely to elicit quite a few strong opinions about how “the way things used to be!” as well as a fair amount of shoulder shrugging.  It’s a formidable task; how do you plan for the future indeed, if you don’t know what the future is going to bring to your door?  The ISTE Standards for Teachers were last revised in 2008 and, while the revision marks a big change from their original document drafted in 2000, are ready for a reboot.

The assumption is that these advances in technology will only become more pervasive, and therefore I attempt to abstract as much as possible concerns and approaches to dealing with those advances.   Our goal, then, is to modify the ISTE Standards for Teachers to bring them in line with current and anticipated advances in technology and the social changes that both lead and result from these advances.

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Converging on “Serious Games”

by on Jan.25, 2014, under #etlead

I actually used to play games at one time, and took quite a bit of enjoyment out of them.  I hardly get a chance now however to actively engage in games in the what I think we’re confining ourselves to in class: and that is board games, card games, and what I would call digital games.

The goal here is to go through some fast-and-loose research here, a meandering through games and experiences that had the most impact on my learning this week, and then boil some of those learnings down into a list of criteria that stand out in quality games for education (“Serious Games”).

Rundown of [Admittedly Informal] Research


If you were ever a fan of any of the Sid Meier Civilization games growing up you remember the addiction.  I got sucked into Freeciv online for a couple hours mid-week.  The nice thing about Freeciv is that it plays the Civilization III that I remember from a gazillion years ago.  It also doesn’t require anything other than a relatively updated browser (uses HTML5).  It’s a little quirky when it comes to mouse interaction and while that was distracting it wasn’t so much a hinderance that I couldn’t get sucked in.  I tried out a few different strategies to see how it’d play out – turns out that being hyper-aggressive doesn’t seem to lead to long term success.

EdGamer Podcast with Doctor James Paul Gee

I just love listening to the selected EdGamer podcast with Dr. James Paul Gee.  An excerpt:

“We take it as normal and natural that I would study Algebra for 12 weeks and then take a test.


But if someone finished Halo on hard, you wouldn’t offer them a halo test after they finished … because we trust the design of the game is so good that finishing it means you’ve mastered it, but we don’t trust the design of the Algebra.”

This would seem to lend itself to the argument for tracking progress as skills mastered, not as yearly letter grades.  Making attainment of mastered skills a demonstrable, meaningful artifact.

MinecraftEdu in the UAS EDMA693 class

On Monday I led a group of teachers through a tutorial session in Minecraft.  Attendance was optional but we had a good turnout, and the teachers came up with some amazing structures.

A two story house. Inside paintings are positioned around the different rooms.

Nearing the end, with about 30m to go folks were coming along pretty well in their builds, and perhaps plateauing, so I sent in various animals, from horses, wolves, pigs, on down to chickens.  More than a few people corralled some of these animals into a pen structure without even being told to do so.

A teacher goes above and beyond with horses and a fountain.

There’s a lot left to do with this group – we have to make sure they feel comfortable enough to bring students into this sort of lesson and have some control over the situation and need to be able to feel comfortable that the tool they’re using (Minecraft in this instance) is an effective way to allow students to create solutions to problems as well as explore engineering and design concepts.

Tying it all Together: Twitter Session

I really appreciated how the Twitter session went straight to the point with the assignment this week of coming up with criteria for serious games.  It gave me an opportunity to think critically about what I listened to, read, and played over the week and hear what other people found important.  From the session our group ended up putting together the beginnings of a list of criteria that appealed to us:

– Focusing on problem solving and using higher-order thinking skills, not just “spitting out facts”.  Think Chess!
– Leads to reflection (am thinking of games involving conflict, like The PeaceMaker Game.
– Problems which evolve and build upon previous skills mastered
– Allows for students to have a hand in developing the game or at least the parameters by which the game is played.
– Freedom of design – there should be ample avenues for problem solving and creativity within the game
– Easy to learn, challenge quickly adapts to all abilities
– Story line / context
– Multiple options / avenues for success (think Civilization or SimCity)
– Low barriers for entry
– Low learning curve
– Free of unnecessary elements (such as unneeded violence)
– Leaves the user with a new skill, or desire to accomplish something.
– The game needs some sort of ending, be-it a win, loss, or change in circumstance.

Side note on criteria: The requirement to be multiplayer or to have some sort of time pressure or time limit didn’t seem to be as important to some members in the chat.  Me personally, if Nolan Bushnell, creator of Atari, mentions time pressure being a profound influence on efficiency of learning, I have to at least consider it.  His biggest belief is that the time pressure should adapt to the level of the participant to keep the participant totally engaged.  Well worth the listen.

Is it enough?

Is that list exhaustive?  Is it too much?  What can be combined, shortened?  Should an attempt be made to quantify the value of a game?  Which of these values are most important?  Where do you define a threshold?

Yes, of course it’s nice to put it all in perspective.  One can get too crazy with metrics.

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#etlead Week 1 Reflection

by on Jan.20, 2014, under #etlead

How have I helped others?

This week Nicole and myself hosted the Twitter session on Thursday.  I’ve done a few of these formats before, and I’ve found the experience positive in a lot of ways: first, forcing me to come up with questions with another student forced me to think critically about this week’s works.  I tried to think outside of my own set of shoes, imagining what topics others wanted to bring up too (trying to elicit positive and negative feelings towards games in education, for example) and giving them space for discussion.  A large part of the session surrounded people’s experience with games and suggestions to check out in the future.  Out of all the discussion I was surprised how many folks mentioned cribbage as one of their favorite games.  It’s applicable to math, counting and mental addition.  A couple teachers mentioned that they were going to start an afterschool game club, perhaps with Yahtzee.  Could be a great venue for students to bring / suggest games to play in the future too.

I spent some time during the Twitter session and outside during my own research populating my Diigo group, so look there if you wanted to go back and look up some of the resources that were mentioned and didn’t want to dig through the Twitter feed.  Feel free to join and contribute!

At Nicole’s suggestion I started playing around with in order to create an Educational Technology Leadership theme.  I haven’t played with it too much but it just looks like a nice way to get a RSS feed on steroids (it can spider through the resources that you add and add their RSS feeds as well), but I don’t think it allows for group collaboration.  Correct me if I’m wrong here.

Reflections on Gaming

Now that we’re a week into the course I’ve seen some positive and negative sentiment with regards to games in education.  Although there are some charter school initiatives that rely heavily on games and game principles in their learning, I think its more likely that games be used as another powerful tool in the toolbox of any teacher to be enhance learning.  I’d be curious to see how the research plays out in the next few years (har har).

Some of the best suggestions that I heard this week with regard to integrating play into the curriculum was two-fold: first, leverage student experience and desire to play games to have them review games and determine how applicable they are to the needs of the class.  Secondly, become involved with some sort of game club at your school, and consider using the group as a beta testing ground for any new game you’re thinking about implementing.

The hardest part on researching games so far has been convincing myself that trying out this or that certain game is worthwhile and that I can put off other tasks that need accomplished.

Looking ahead

SuperBetter was suggested as a way to gamify your own self-improvement.  I’m a little prickly when it comes to a computer suggesting self-improvement, I admit, so by the time I hit the second task, which wanted me to snap my fingers 50 times or count backwards from 100 by 3’s I decided that was about enough time wasted and moved on:

Well maybe you did, Buster, but I didn’t.  I do feel a drive towards some sense of “self-embiggening” however, and I’m going to try out different ways of scoreboarding good behavior and see if that works.  Nicole mentioned “The Walk“, and I’m going to see how well that works for running.

In my own parenting I’m seeing a need to gamify some of my strategies in the hopes that my two kids, 5 and 3, will help more around the house.  This was spurred by my oldest’s honest question, “Dad, why don’t we play more?”, to which I answered with a wave, a flourish of the hand, and a healthy dose of my mother’s words, “But look at this house!  It’s a mess!  Where are we going to play?”.  Looking back now, perhaps there’s no reason we can’t do both at the same time.

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Getting into Games

by on Jan.18, 2014, under #etlead

The past couple of weeks has been a whirlwind for me – I feel like I’m 2 weeks behind and I’m only one week into the class!  But I’m sure it’ll settle a bit as we get more into the class.  I confess I haven’t been able to find an hour a day to play games but I have on the other hand been able to do a lot of informal research with educators out there in the field and I think this opens the door to a lot of gaming in the future and I’m looking forward to it.

Participation in the EdGamer Google Hangout

On Wednesday Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher), Dr. Graham, and myself met with Zack Gilbert (@edgamer) and Gerry James (@gjames3312) from the EdGamer show to talk about the #Gamifi-ED project that is an integral part of this class.  Verena Roberts (@verenanz) was on vacation someplace warm, leaving the rest of us in envy.  Once I got over the initial jitters – think live radio show here – it was a fun conversation! [link to come soon].

After we were done with the actual recording we sat in the Google Hangout and we continued to chat and we got a big dump of links, resources, and insight into the use of games in the classroom.  It was refreshing to hear reinforcement that games are just another powerful tool in the toolbag, and aren’t in and by themselves this magical savior of education.

The time spent beforehand preparing for the show was really valuable.  The practical side of me wanted to get a sense of how the show would flow, the level of formality, how “on task” it was, etc., so I listened to a previous podcast from Dr. James Paul Gee as well as from Seann Dikkers.  Dr. James Paul Gee is a font of information when it comes to games in education, cares deeply about where education is going, and is one of the most passionate speakers I’ve heard in a while; I’m totally hooked.  One of my favorite pieces of the show pertaining to games was the little section where Gerry talked about a couple challenges he faced using Minecraft in the classroom: first, a little issue with video resolution, where Windows would “helpfully” pick a sub-optimal resolution and secondly, dealing with only allowing permitted students in to prevent griefing.  Both problems were given to the students to solve and in the process, everyone involved learned something.  The teacher here didn’t have to know everything, just had to know a good solution when presented and help guide the students along.  I’ve seen this described in many forms (“sage on the stage vs. guide on the side” comes to mind) but a small example of giving power to the students to think creatively about a real problem and exercise their brains.

I picked the show with Seann Dikkers (former teacher, principal, consultant, and now current assistant professor at Ohio University) because it was the most recent show that had the word Minecraft in the show header text.  There was not a whole lot of meat on the topic of Minecraft per se but what I found was a great conversation regarding his views on effective professional development and its well worth the listen.  There was also some great information in the show concerning ways to use your students’ vast knowledge of games to preview and sift through all the different options available to you in order to pick out a few titles to pursue deeper.  The show also put me on ease somewhat; emphasizing that it takes quite some time (months, semesters, years) in order to feel confident in the integration of games into the curriculum, and that’s normal and healthy.

Twitter Session Notes

Nicole Fuerst (@nfuerst2) and I hosted the #etlead Twitter session on Thursday evening.  After breaking the ice we threw out questions exploring people’s favorite games of all time (Cribbage surprisingly was mentioned quite a bit), what they thought of using games in the classroom, what challenges were present in their use.  Of course games make up quite a few of my favorite memories growing up and just having a chat about them served as a great ice-breaker for the group.  A concern held by many was the amount of time it takes to introduce them, the social “silo” effect that digital games have from lack of face-to-face interaction, and the difficulty of assessing progress.

Games that I’m Eager to Try Out

Some games that other teachers mentioned this week that are piquing my interest:

Eskom Energy Planner – the son of an engineer working in the power generation, energy issues have always interested me.

Stop Disasters Game – UNICEF put out this game to simulate what would have to happen to recover from natural disasters.  A friend of mine uses this in his 6th grade social studies program, and I’m interested in trying this out.

The Walk – A game / story that unfolds as you spend time walking.  I’m wondering if I can use this while running or if it requires me trying to manipulate the touchscreen while I’m bouncing along on the treadmill.

Gamify My Life

One of my goals this year is to run in the Yukon Marathon.  I’ve never done a marathon before and this would be double my max distance.  I’m looking for suggestions on ways to encourage myself to run more, and about the only thing that I can think of off-hand is a scoreboard I put on my fridge to allow me to grab a beer for every X # of miles run that week.  Suggestions welcome.

Potential Work with Middle School Teachers

I met with a couple teachers on Friday from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School here in Juneau on the topic of games (of course), and to solicit participation in the #gamifi-ED project.  We talked about a few things that seemed really interesting and I’m eager to research: games involving resource scarcity (think Japan pre-World War II) and simulations whereby the end result of either conflict vs. peaceful resolution could be examined.  Since I’ve been mostly looking into Minecraft in the recent past of course I want to swing my pick-axe at these problems using Minecraft, and I think that’s quite possible.  Again – open to suggestions here.

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