Building Knowledge and Assessing Learning

It strikes me that three things converged on the same professional question over that past month or so.

In a previous blog post, I mentioned how we at MPI are engaged in the act of developing more purposefully conversations with students about the criteria used for assessing learning. We call this “co-constructing criteria”. Since I’ve talked about this before, I don’t want to go into detail, but I do want to point out that it implies there is a big difference between assessment and evaluation – assessment in the service of learning is a conversation with a student about learning targets, level of completion, and mapping out a pathway to get there. It draws the student and the teacher onto the same side of the table to ask the question “How will WE know when you have reached a sufficient level of proficiency or reason mastery?”

Over the past two months I’ve been taking my data from online conversations, coding them and now I am making meaning of the data in order to finish my dissertation about knowledge building in online communities. One of the key aspects of my research is trying to more closely look at knowledge building principles as a means to evaluate the value of an online community of practice (CoP). (Etienne Wenger defines a CoP as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”).

In “A Brief History of Knowledge Building” by Scardamalia and Bereiter, they state:

“Knowledge building has several characteristics not shared by constructivist learning in general, although common to organizational knowledge building. Two of these are:

Intentionality. Most of learning is unconscious, and a constructivist view of learning does not alter this fact. However, people engaged in knowledge building know they are doing it and advances are purposeful.

Community Knowledge. Learning is a personal matter, but knowledge building is done for the benefit of the community.”

Scardamalia, M. and C. Bereiter (2010). “A brief history of knowledge building.” Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 36(1).

I believe one of the tangible benefits of good project-based learning is a sense of both purposeful knowledge building in our community, and intentionality in how we address looking at our work as a part of our community to strengthen our own personal learning.

Deeper Learning Network:
In the #dlmooc Deeper Learning MOOC last week, the topic was on assessment. Much of the conversation focused on assessment in the service of learning – that is, assessment that happens during the learning as a means to give students feedback, direction, additional strategies to support their building of knowledge – which is happening in conjunction with their peers in their teacher as a conversation. This to me has much of the same hallmarks as knowledge building mentioned above. In the end, there can be different assessments at the end to evaluate learning, but the act of formative assessment is an application of knowledge building principles and it’s exciting to see how it is the most significant step in the learning process.

“How do you know that?” In my training back in the 1990s on the Modeling approach to learning science (, that question of how do you know something became a critical one for us to unpack students’ thinking. To me, it ties together these ideas of knowledge building, and assessment in the service of learning that seem to have converged in the last couple of weeks.

The more things change the more they stay the same…(Ruminations on Alice)

In the process of looking for interactive, educational gaming environments we’ve explored Scratch (see post from previous week) and recently Alice, which is done out of Carnegie Mellon University. It is striking to me that these tools are not so much new, although they certainly take advantage of the advancement in computing that has occurred in the last 20 years. What is striking is how they draw on a long legacy of student centered, constructivist philosophy that reaches back to Dewey and before.

Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”
John Dewey

In so many ways, the efforts to create learning environments that are focused on the learner, and not teaching or content specific issues stem from Dewey’s philosophy 100 years ago. The development of the computer and its implications for education continued this philosophy and supported it. In the 1970s the computer language Logo was one of the central products from this philosophy of how computers could support constructive learning and education. One of the central figures in this movement was Seymour Pappert, who became identified through his work at MIT Media Lab through Logo amongst other writings and projects. History of Logo here:

“The role of the teacher is to create the conditions for invention rather than provide ready-made knowledge.”
Seymour Papert

So here we are now with a World Wide Web connected citizenry who easily see themselves in conversation with the world, and creating in a community. The philosophy is not changed, but the tools and what they are capable of doing have become richer, more connected, and understand better the workings of the brain. Here is Mitchell Resnick, one of the founders of Scratch, talking about the ideas behind Scratch:

Think about this again: Pappert over 25 years ago had something to say about the kinds of tools that we could enable through computers for learning:

…they [the children] become producers instead of consumers of educational software. (p. 107)

I am convinced that the best learning takes place when the learner takes charge… ,(p. 25) 

(quotes lifted from from:

And so along this evolution comes another tool: Alice – which was designed with a slightly different cause — helping students learn computer programming (unlike one of the founding ideas behind Logo which was mathematical thinking). The numbers of students who are interested in working with object-oriented computer languages has not been very high, and particularly has been gender biased dramatically towards boys. This platform teaches the basics of object-oriented languages, through a interactive 3-D interface that is highly engaging, and has been shown to retain as well as teach boys and girls effectively. It was interesting that in the Alice blog, there was conversation about rationale for using Scratch or Alice in education. A couple of quotes from the design team on Alice on their blog (
“The general observation is that students find Scratch to be very accessible, and can do many cool things very quickly. The downside is that they will hit the limits of Scratch relatively soon. Alice has a richer set of capabilities but that students need a lot more initial support and training to fully utilize its capabilities.”
“The distinction between informal and formal educational settings is interesting and important, and yet we are finding that Scratch is starting to be used in more formal settings (as the ap-cs listserv thread clearly illustrates), and we are also finding Alice being used in more informal settings (such as the Citizen’s School project in New York City last fall.)”
I found it particularly interesting in the second quote that they distinguish that Scratch was a more informal tool and Alice was a formal tool, but they have bleeded over from both ends so that they are used in both settings now. I agree with the general idea that Alice requires a bit more tutorial on the front end, but quickly gets one up to speed in the terminology of object-oriented languages: methods and classes and the structure therein. Here is a short movie that the second tutorial walks one through creating to understand the role of methods in sequencing behaviors in a programmed environment:

So where does this take us? It is 2009 and we have moved from Dewey to Pappert to Resnick and we are still talking about ways to create self-directed, constructive learning environments. If the next 20 years play out anything like the exponential curve we see from the last 20, the opportunities for personalized, rich, powerful learning environments will only become more likely to influence education and learning. With that said, tools like Scratch and Alice offer us a wonderful place to begin now with students.
Papert, S. (1993). The children’s machine: rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: BasicBooks.

Welcome to the Age of Exponential Miracles. Our Credo is “Meh.”

A typical Sunday. Take the dog to the beach for a round of play catch. Come back read some of the paper, make a quad cappuccino, make breakfast, play with the boys, and spend some time with course work. Near the end of the day, I read the comics from the Sunday funnies and absolutely love this one from Retail:


Why? Specifically, about three hours today I spent playing and creating with the free software called Scratch, from MIT media labs to create a prototype for a game we are designing for ETEC 697, Educational Technology in Informal Learning Environments. I’ve played with Scratch before, but never sat down to really tackle a project that had been defined through a game brief. What struck me was how many ways I could attack the problem to bring in graphics, to create animations, to design interactive elements. The end result of three hours of work was either remarkable or work at a seven-year-old could do, depending upon how you look at. My seven-year-old sat at the table while I designed the project, and understood most of the interface and the feedback in the design and even the programming aspects of the game. Let me say that again: a seven-year-old watched me go through the process of designing a game that had backgrounds, sprites, scripts, imported graphics, audio files, and programming errors and found it engaging to work with me and give feedback into the process. That’s why I found the Retail comic strip so funny. We have reached a point in technologic development that surpasses our ability to appreciate the amazing things we are doing (in this case on my kitchen table wirelessly with a computer more powerful than a 1990s supercomputer) and our generation of young students assumes this is the way the world has always been. It reminds me a lot of the Arthur C. Clarke quote:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”

I believe we have come to an age where either it is magic or the response is “Meh.”. When go back and look at my Sunday I marvel at the layers of technology that I applied without thinking. I had a iPhone by my bed that both act as a alarm clock and a telephone in case an emergency scheme during the night. When I came back from the beach, I grabbed my iPhone to help finish off a crossword puzzle (six letter word for Island in the Bahamas? Bimini). While I was at it, I scanned my personal learning network, checked out the start times for NFL football games, then check the up-to-date news. A few hours later, I was on my laptop using Skype to connect to my cohorts in Colorado and Honolulu, where we planned through Google docs both a written document and the presentation to give in about 10 days. I then downloaded the latest version of Scratch from MIT media labs, and using the web to look for tutorials, taught myself enough to develop interactive elements in a game in less than three hours. While I was doing that, I was also watching the live New England Patriots game which was being broadcast through a streaming website. Meh.

Let’s look at Scratch a little more closely. A free, cross platform, easy to learn programming environment designed for primarily middle and high school students to design interactive games and media. When you are finished, there is a “share” tab that allows any author to create and publish their idea for free. Think about this… anywhere in the world, Macintosh, Linux, Windows, your creation can be shared via their website for free, or others can look for and enjoy it and give feedback. Meh.

Now, I readily agree that having access to a programming environment is no different than having access to a pen. Without assistance and good mentoring (teachers, facilitators, other means of building knowledge), the product will likely be weak and ineffective. With today’s technology, it is possible to easily find many free tutorials to learn how to do just about all aspects of the program. More importantly, there is a whole community of users who write about their experiences with the program. Think about that — resources that I can reach from my kitchen table, experts that I can find, video tutorials (screen casts) that others put up to help ME. Why? Because that is how users in this new frontier see themselves – as contributing community members for a world of users. Meh.

here is the game, btw (simple, yes – the goal for this prototype is to guide the butterfly to the flower – if you touch the flower and hit the space bar, it increases the energy level of the butterfly)

Learn more about this project

So where does this take us? Everything we see today is at the bottom of the exponential curve of technological change as we look into the future. What awaits us is even more connectedness, more access, more personalization, more ways that we can look back and wonder about a time that we didn’t have these resources. For educators with the right focus — who really are in the game to help students learn — the opportunity to help students appreciate both where we are, where we have come from, and where we are going makes this a marvelous time to try and drive away the “Meh” culture that surrounds us. Peter Vail in his book “Learning as a Way of Being” talks about Whitewater Learning as a metaphor for a dynamic approach to changing times. In Hawaii, we talk about getting on the wave as a way of dealing with the dynamic of the ocean as a metaphor. All educators need to recognize that the world is changed, and is continuing to change exponentially, and that the only way to stay relevant is to adapt and adopt to the changing frontiers in front of us, lest our classroom experience be regarded as “Meh.”

online learning and teens

I gave a talk at the fall HAIS conference on the topic of Online learning and teens. I have attached the pdf version of the keynote I gave. I used a lot of video for the use of telling the story through case studies. Most of the graphics on the slides link to video stories that set the context for how teens learn with online media.

One aside – I tried the iphone app Keynote remote – it was marvelous – love it!

Thoughts on the what drives game design, lessons learned and a few emergent technologies that apply

So, this week for ETEC 697 (Ed Tech in Informal Learning Environments), we were talking about two topics in particular:
Where the idea for a game comes from (chapter 3 from Rouse)
Getting the gameplay working (chapter 15 from Rouse)

Rouse, R., & Ogden, S. (2004). Game design theory & practice, second edition (2nd ed.). Plano, Tex.: Wordware Pub.

To start, some quotes from his text that I found particularly interesting:

Regarding the initial ideas for games:
“… computer game ideas can come from three distinct, unrelated areas of the form of gameplay, technology, and story.” (Page 41)

“often a game developer will have enjoyed a game in one of these genre and will want to apply her own spin to it.” (page 42)

“sometimes the designer will have both the stories she wants to tell you the type of gameplay she wants to explore, and will attempt to do both in the same game, even if the two do not go well together.” (page 43)

Regarding starting with a specific technology:
“Going into a project with a large portion of the game’s technology already developed is also fairly common occurrence” (page 43)
Of course, this makes me think of the iPhone as a platform that is already very robust, and well developed. It is no wonder, therefore, that so many developers have moved this platform — sometimes exclusively — to create content.

“When technology is handed to a game designer who is told to make a game out of it, it makes the most sense for the designer to embrace the limitations of the technology and turn them into strengths in her game.” (Page 44)

“For the greater good of the game, the story and the technology must be compatible with each other.” (Page 45)

Regarding starting with the story:
It is surprising to me that it seems that this is the least common of the three paths to get to a game. Perhaps it is the altruistic side of me, but as humans, we have lived primarily through the stories we tell, and it is the stories that are most compelling. This is not to say that games developed with technology or gameplay do not have compelling narratives, it just seems counterintuitive that the story comes after these other two areas frequently.

{{I find it interesting as a sidebar, that Rouse is clearly a fan of the rock band Rush, since phrases like “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice”, and “those who wish to be must put aside the alienation, get on with the fascination, the real relation, the underlying theme.”
Just an intriguing way to view some of the ideas and gameplay…}}

In chapter 15, which is “Getting the gameplay working”, some quotes here:

“by concentrating on getting a small piece of the game fully functional and enjoyable, the developer can get a much better sense of whether the final game is going to be any fun or not. If the gameplay does not turn out to be as anticipated, the prototype provides an early enough warning that the game needs to be either redirected in a more promising direction or, in the worst cases, aborted entirely.” (Page 283)

“looking back, if we had focused on making the gameplay fun before making a large number of levels, we could have avoided a lot of extra work and wasted effort.” (Page 285)

Regarding starting small, and prototyping early on:
“Besides, a playable demo will make the game easier to sell to a publisher or a green light committee.” (Page 286)

“It is very easy to lose sight of your gameplay goals when your game languishes in an unplayable state for much of the time. Certainly the game can be broken in many ways, with various components that do not yet work as they are supposed to…” (page 288)

“It is often a good idea to start developing your content from the beginning of the game. Early parts of the game need to be at the highest level of quality possible, so you want them to represent your more seasoned efforts, while levels at the end of the game will often tend to be more atypical and hence will not represent the “regular” gameplay that you want to have working first.” (Page 289)
It is interesting here, to think about the comparisons and differences between game design and lesson development, therefore. With good lesson design, we typically are not changing our knowledge fundamentally as we are developing our content, activities, and instructional plan after setting our end goal. If we know our goal is to have the students understand simple machines through an activity that involves building racecars out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands, we know as we design the lesson that we will not understand Popsicle sticks much differently at the end of our process than when we started. This is very different in game design, where the platform that we develop our content in will become easier to use, better understood to apply, and potentially evolve as we work on our design. There is also the time frame involved. In lessons, we typically design over a few days, although there is iterative design that occurs year by year as we go back and revise and improve lessons we’ve used in the past. For game design, the period of development which may be months or over a year, almost guarantees that changes in our understanding of the platform, or the platform itself will happen. Yet, there is a common idea here — the start (think Gagne’s first event: Gain Attention) and the end (culminating activity) both need to be powerful to best ensure their success.

Regarding prototyping: “observe how easily they manage to pick up the controls and mechanics. It is much simpler to make a game harder than to make it easier.” (Page 290)

“As you work on a project, you’re likely to become overly familiar with some of the content you have created, and familiarity can breed contempt.” (Page 291)

“Always try to remember how you first felt when you play a level or tried to pull off a particular move” (page 291)

Regarding the role of programmer versus designer — assuming that you have a team working on the project: “nevertheless, a designer who cannot program will be beholden to the talents and inclinations of her programmers, which can be eternally frustrating.” (Page 292)

Although not all of these ideas apply directly to instructional design outside of gaming, or certainly a few ideas in here that are significant whether we are looking at games, educational games, or just classroom instructional practice. A few thoughts that came into my mind through the reading:

One of the emerging technologies that still are in their early stages are virtual worlds. Specifically, second life is a platform that has no content at a starting point, but gives developers ample opportunity to construct openly in their environment. Is Second life is a technology looking for a story? There are certainly examples of projects that are creating virtual worlds with a story embedded — World of Warcraft, Runescape (quote of the day from my seven-year-old this morning “dad — someone ‘jacked’ my identity — can I make a new one?” I had to ask him what that meant, and then realized identity hijacking was a fairly common phenomena in that virtual world). These MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Games) have story built into them, and a social community as a significant element. The numbers involved in these worlds attest to their viability, and as informal learning environments, we can use that as a learning laboratory to best design from.

Regarding multi-touch interfaces, I’m usually most intrigued with iPhone, but I saw this video recently that provided another window in game design: Microsoft surface D&D project

So here is a example of a powerful multi-touch technology, where the game play, the story, and the technology all Weave together. Perhaps that is the best view of where the future lies in game design — a happy mix of all three.

Towards designing educational environments and games

We’ve begun to investigate the underlying ideas behind game design. As always, my reflection stems from considerations of learning environments, and how they are emerging, with a lens on schools, and education in general.

We have been reading from:

Rouse, R., & Ogden, S. (2004). Game design theory & practice, second edition (2nd ed.). Plano, Tex.: Wordware Pub.

In particular this week, topics on storytelling (Chapter 11) and multiplayer (Chapter 13).
As it turns out, today, I was visiting the Honolulu Academy of Arts, because it was family Sunday, and the topic was medieval times.
I had in tow my seven-year-old and 12 year old, who enjoyed the swordplay, the Lego castles, the catapult building, etc. While I was there, I was thinking about the relative simplicity of their visitor design. Placards next to artwork, introductory walls to explain areas of exhibit, then the relative minor influence of technology and museums to visit. Short video of one exhibit room:

The readings from

Braverman, B. E. (1988). Toward an Instructional Design for Art Exhibitions. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 22(3), 85-96.

make the case that visits to spaces that have a focus on aesthetics have a very different mission, and displays and design are very different with that kind of focus. In most art museums, the focus is not specifically content, but more appreciation and development of the right brain part of our experience: creativity, context, beauty, passion.

In places like the MET school in Providence, there is a movement away from content as core and the movement towards directed interests, creativity and context as a starting point. In spaces like museums, there is a shift from content as core and more an effort to wrap in context as the main experience. In the midst of this, I am reading

Willingham, D. T. (2009). Why don’t students like school? : a cognitive scientist answers questions about how the mind works and what it means for your classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Early in the book, he talks about the concept of prior knowledge as a significant determinant in meaning making. Essentially, when we learn and experience, we first draw on our prior knowledge to help us make sense of what we are seeing. In a museum, we may see an exhibit with a surrealist painter, and without any prior knowledge, we would just see objects on a canvas, a bizarre mix of shape and form, but if we have some background knowledge of the historical setting that it comes from, when we have other artists from that time that we already know, we have an easier time both appreciating and understanding the work for what it is.
In Rouse’s book, in the chapters on storytelling and multiplayer, he still lays out the significance of drawing in the player, explaining the importance of not overwhelming or killing off a new player as a significant design element. There is an inherent tension in designing games to either get to the content, in the case of educational games, or the story, in the case of more fun/experience focused games, and there is a challenge here for educators. When the environment is designed too closely around the content, the engagement and interest will likely go down, and there will be the inherent problem with matching learners incoming, prior knowledge so as to best set up the learning environment. As a result, many games that try to focus on educational concepts, have either elaborate introduction or simple sequences that are not very interesting or rewarding, to lay a foundation of prior knowledge. One of the strengths in the engaging single and multiplayer games is the ability to start right into the story, and bring in information as it is needed to help the learning experience. This kind of scaffolding experience is more highly engaging, but often does not have nearly the educational depth that most teachers and schools would find a prerequisite for usefulness in a learning setting. As an example, we played Halo this week in class, and although it was highly engaging, I’m not sure I would replace my physics class (yet) with this virtual world.
The challenge then, for the major project that will be due in this class (ETEC 697), is to marry the best of what cognitive research shows works in the brain to build knowledge, and to structure it in such a way so it feels engaging and appropriate for the user. One of the ways to take advantage of that is through the social, multi-user interface that is emerging in game design.

Another experience this weekend gave some insight into this. I was at the Kapiolani Community College farmers market, and was struck by the sense of community that exists at this weekly event. Picture below:


There were hundreds of people, almost none of whom knew each other, but there was a common sense of purpose about being there that brought a true sense of community and shared experience to the event. As a result, people were more likely to interact, share stories, and drop their guard in order to the part of the experience. As I think about Second Life when it is at its best, I am struck by that same possibility: being in a place where a community can form around a good idea, and the nature of common mission and presence would allow conversation and knowledge building to happen as the users interact. We are not there yet, as the places that exist are still either too forced by their nature to specific goals, or experiences are too general to really be powerfully educational, but next-generation interactive design has the potential to go there. One effort towards this road is a emergent virtual world designed for educational experiences, but with a first look and feel as a engaging social community: Blue Mars. Time will tell if spaces like this will rise to the needs of learners AND schools.


A few gratuitous shots of my boys in medieval garb:
kaio gloves
aukai helmet

Gaming, Problem Based Learning and Assessment

This is a short blog post this week that’s more reflective about the beginning of next area in ETEC 697: Educational Technology in Informal Learning Environments. We are beginning to get into talking about games — specifically computer games and a great multitude and the ways that they support learning. Two particular things strike me as a reflection point to begin this quest:

Gee, J. P. (2009). Pedagogy, Education and Innovation in 3-D Virtual Worlds. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 2(1), 3-9.

In this article, Gee, a well known advocate and researcher on games and their possibilities in education reflects on the similarities between construction of knowledge in gaming experience and a similar research thread in science education termed modeling. Much to my surprise, he quotes and uses extensively the thinking of David Hestenes, who spent the last 20 years at Arizona State University developing a pedagogical approach to science education termed modeling. In the “it’s a small world”, I spent two summers at Arizona State University in 1995 and 1996 under the tutelage of Hestenes learning the modeling method for physics teachers. sense that experience, I have been a huge advocate for rethinking the way we teach and learn — initially science, which is what I was trained to do, but more broadly education in general, as the ideas of modeling are applicable across all domains of learning.
So it was with no small amount of pleasure, that Gee took on the notion that good game design creates opportunities for internal models to be constructed by the gamer. Like any instructional approach, there are better examples than others that indicate this, but the notion that a well-designed game requires the learning of, and the application of some framework about the virtual world that must be applied has some real basis at its core.
Chris Dede At Harvard University spent a decade developing a virtual world called River City, in which students were immersed in a virtual medieval world that was facing a health crisis. The students needed to collect data, interview individuals, test samples, build a internal model for what was going on in this community so as to propose possible causes and solutions to the crisis. The underlying goal was for students to develop an understanding of the scientific process, with an emphasis on public-health. There were two aspects of River city that I always found particularly powerful — students were engaged with the rich science problem, that required building knowledge, as well as social exchange in order to accomplish the task. Secondarily, there was a real emphasis on assessment, learning outcomes, to understand better how students learned in this environment. This is a topic for another blog post, but probably the most exciting thing I heard Chris talk about was their efforts to measure learning formatively as the students were playing the game. Programmers found ways to measure where students were going, what objects they touched, the ways that they built resources, so that instead of stopping the students in the midst of learning to see what they knew, it was possible to measure that without interrupting the flow of learning.
There is no doubt that students find games engaging. The thinking of Gee and the potential offered by Dede give two merging pathways to better support these tools and learning.
In the process of thinking about this article, I stumbled across a PBS website that has interviews with Gee and Prensky, amongst others, talking about pros and cons of games in education. The website is:

here is an example of Gee talking about whether games might be educational:

The second topic, which is just a brief reflection, was the recent visit I had at High Tech High in San Diego California with a group of 60 Hawaii teachers from independent schools, looking at transformative models of education. High Tech High has built a reputation as a leading project-based school with a strong school culture on learning communities. In the process of talking to Ben Daly, the chief academic officer, the subject came up about expanding their program to a online environment. They are looking at creating a online Academy, for the students who cannot come to their school — either because it is too far away, or they could not accept any more students. They are fine tuning what an online environment might be like, and I found it striking that a school that values group work, authentic problems, and rich, deep thinking might not succeed well with traditional online classes. Games and virtual worlds, however, provide an opportunity to more than not mimic the kinds of problem-based, engaging, social learning that they value so highly. It will be interesting to see how they adapt their model online, and what tools they develop or utilize to support their philosophical core.

A brief interpretation of Virtual Museums in Second LIfe though research on Museum Design

So this week, I took a look at some museums and exhibits in Second Life, with a particular focus of analyzing them based on some of the research and writings on museum exhibits and design. Although we’ve used authors like Falk and Dierking, Pine and Gilmore, to name two, I decided to utilize a few new resources to help me frame my thinking about my visits (Urban, Black, Gammon). Full bibliography is at the bottom, with some key ideas from those articles underneath.

As a general point of discussion, none of the sites I visited covered all of the appropriate design ideas. What there was, however, with some insight in each one about strengths and needs for improvement to make the experience more vivid and powerful.

In order:

Exploratorium 2When you arrive at the Exploratorium Island, There are a variety of interactive exhibits to explore – test your ability to track objects, be a molecule undergoing brownian motion, or take some visual perception tests. From a Gammon’s work, there is a definite sense of each exhibit attracting and holding attention. Urban emphasizes the importance of setting, media richness, and user agent. These are all true for the many exhibits that populate this space. Black details 23 characteristics for visitor involvement, and these exhibits do engage including features like enjoying the activity, it is enjoyable and planned out, users have the power to select, learning will occur because of participation. Each exhibit by itself clearly shows effort in the design.

sl1 explo_002 Some shortcomings here included a lack of cohesiveness that Urban might attribute to lack of consideration of setting. Gammon states the importance (as do many others) of linking to prior knowledge. Black uses the phrase “clarity of vision”. Although the exhibit is bright, full of interesting exhibits, and covers a range of science topics, there is a lack of a general sense of the plan, and signage is minimal to the point of being confusing. Probably most frustrating for me, was the lack of depth of the science explained. With the opportunity for lots of different media richness (Urban), I felt the designers could spend more time providing better information, learner guidance, and differentiated entry points for learners (Black).

To compare the site to others, I also visited:

Basilica San Francesco Assisi: cesco%20Assisi

st francis 1This site has a striking look and feel to it. Unlike the Exploratorium above, the site was rooted in reality. This location addresses the scale and setting issues brought up by Urban in his article. Although I’ve not been to this location in real life, it has the authentic look and feel of the original space in Italy. One of the impressive features was the opportunity to purchase a heads-up display, that gave guidance and information for many way stations along the path. For the most part I found this display helpful, but there were some glitches. The controls did not always work, and once a description started, it kept looping until you are out of the approximate range of that specific exhibit. is probably the most frustrating aspect of this design (for me anyway) was a general lack of direction available to guide a visitor through. Although the heads-up display gave useful information, it was not as intuitively easy to use as it might’ve been, and more importantly, did not really the two specific places within the building.

st francis 2 It was interesting to me that both visits (and the others I looked at) all lacked some major elements that would’ve made the visits more engaging. It certainly cuts to the core of Urban’s comment about developers who are using Second Life as a “Third Space”. Although they are passionate in creating very interesting spaces, they are not fully applying all the principles of good design into the spaces consistently, and thus minimizing the impact that these places might have if they were more fully thought through.

Readings that have specific information that is applicable to virtual world design:

Black, G. (2005). The engaging museum : developing museums for visitor involvement. London ; New York: Routledge.

Gammon, B. (2003). Assessing Learning in the Museum Environment [Electronic Version], from

Urban, R. et al., A Second Life for Your Museum: 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments and Museums, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted October 4, 2009. .



Key ideas: developers in Second Life are often using it as a “third place” to develop their serious leisure pursuit.
Characteristics of Second Life environments:
scale: there’s a lot of flexibility in Second Life to work in the scale of your project based on your intention, and not in the physical limitation.
Setting: how artifacts are displayed is very open to interpretation. Some spaces minimize the setting to make the artifacts standout, others create a rich copy of the original space to set their setting, others invent new ways of representing the works.
persistence and evolution: more so than real-world, Second Life spaces evolve dramatically over time, which can be both powerful and unsettling for return visitors.
Media richness: a Second Life exhibits can incorporate powerful use of media to enhance the experience. Whether it is sound, video, or just interactivity, all of these features create the opportunity for a rich experience.
visitor engagement: There are many opportunities in Second Life to create this gauge, and invite people for second and third visits based on their experience.
Intended purpose: although it is not possible in Second Life to re-create any specific real-life equivalent, there is a need to match the intent of the space, and the design as close as possible
Collection types:it is possible to have a variety of types of artifacts and Second Life — from replicas of original objects like paintings, to interactive models in which participants can take an active role. The spectrum across these wide variety of the exhibit types within the Second Life environment create multiple opportunities for experienced.
Target audiences: because of the anonymous nature of Second Life, collecting specific information about the audiences for exhibit is challenging, if not entirely impossible. That makes targeting exhibits based on user experience a tricky problem indeed.


Specific ideas he mentions about learning in museums:
Developing skills
[mental and physical]

Does the exhibit:
Attract and hold attention — absorbed, repeat, attend for requisite time
comprehend content — challenging but achievable, attain detail and depth, makes difficult easy to understand
increase or consolidate knowledge — clarify, consolidate, address open-ended, retention weeks later, pre-post increases
link to prior knowledge — connectedness through mapping, Everyday experience,
process and apply information — new ideas, deep discussion capability, use information to complete task
challenge belief, attitudes, values — change is evident, new perspective
inspire strong emotional reactions — emotive language, described exhibit in personal emotional terms
increase awareness of other people’s beliefs, attitudes and values — spontaneous empathy, tolerance
increase empathy with other people’s beliefs and attitudes and values –

develops skills of cooperation
develop skills of communication
increased sense of self-confidence and self efficacy
increased sense of identity and self-worth
inspire interest and curiosity
motivate to investigate further
associate experience with positive feelings
skill-based — prediction, deduction, experimentation, decision-making…
numeracy and literacy skills
manual dexterity and other skills
artistic appreciation and criticism

a model for interpretive planning
when you wish to present such a specific site resource issues themes etc.
who you’re targeting the presentation I have to consider the nature of the target audiences there needs to expect patience
why you wish to develop/change the presentation — by defining specific objectives and outcomes. What are the benefits for the visitor, for the site collections, for the organizations, and our these benefits evaluated
how do you intend to present the museum — the interpretive strategy and gallery concepts — to achieve the objectives of the outcomes required

key principles:
interpretation is inclusive
external image is vital
interpretation emphasizes the overall visitor experience
the threshold is all-important
atmosphere matters
through orientation, interpretation gives visitors the power to select
interpretation is enjoyable
interpretation should be based on the latest audience research
interpretation seeks to use visitors personal context to build on pre-existing experience, skills and knowledge
interpretation is planned
interpretation emphasizes clarity of vision
the interpretation itself must be selective and themed
sound interpretation requires sound research
sound interpretation recognizes multiple points of view
interpretation is committed to active viewer participation
Interpreters believe learning occurs as a result of visitor participation
visitor participation means “pacing” displays
visitor participation also needs rest, recuperation and time for reflection
visitor participation means encouraging social interaction
visitor participation requires an impact on the emotions and senses as well as on the intellect
visitor participation requires a palette of approaches and layering of content
interpretation must also relate to the detail
interpretive approach will enable regular change into continuous program of activities and events

First we shape our buildings, then they shape us

This week’s post is framed around some experiences from this week, and some ruminations from weeks past. The title comes from a Winston Churchill quote that I have kept with me over last seven years or so from being involved in a new building design. And in light of the visits we had, some of the readings, and most importantly my own thoughts and experience, I have some thinking going on about design for formal and informal environments.
A week ago, we visited the Bishop Museum, and toured the newly reopened Hawaii Hall, as well as the science Center. Here were two facilities that had different origins — Hawaii Hall was built 100 years ago, and although it was face lifted in minor ways a few times, it was closed, reinvigorated, and reopened with a focus towards applying good visitor design ideas for the first time since it opened. Info here: The Science Center, on the other hand, was designed from the ground up and therefore had a different approach, look and feel, and goal.
On Tuesday, we visited the Waikiki Aquarium, and looked at its designs from the visitor experience, including the audio tour. The aquarium, has gone through a series of redesigns, and applying new exhibits and approaches over the years.

So along with that, I’ve been thinking about classroom design and library design in particular. My wife recently was at the Sinclair Library at the University of Hawaii and commented on the redesign which created a more friendly, open space for students. An area for socializing with food, coffee available for students, different configuration spaces with more openness, location of a Student Success Center to support studying, research, and other areas of student life. Essentially, they became more of a learning center, and less of an archive of paper text. As a result of small budgets, they did a lot of the work themselves: painting, receiving donations for furniture, rethinking spaces and making the most of what’s available. The results, a threefold increase in traffic over the last three months.

This made me think of a talk I heard in December 2008 by the architectural firm Fielding Nair International and their architect Randy Fielding titled “Transformation through Innovative School Design”. In this talk, he both talked about creating spaces for the 21st century, as well as gave design examples from his company and others. It made me think a bit about how a space like a library, or the Bishop Museum, or the Waikiki aquarium, would start if a donor gave them $2 million to redesign their facility. Make old things new? Or go back to square one, and design with a new eye?
To that end, Fielding discussed 20 modalities and four supporting areas that come into design ideas based on the social nature of humans and the way people learn. The modalities are:
independent study
peer tutoring
team collaboration
1 to 1 learning with teacher
lecture with teacher at Center stage
Project-based learning
technology-based with mobile computers
distance learning
research video wireless Internet
student presentations
performance-based learning
seminar style instruction
community service learning
naturalistic learning
social/emotional learning
art-based learning
storytelling (floor seating)
learning by building
team teaching
play-based learning

Not all of these modalities fit our thinking about informal learning spaces, at least in the way we think of them in exhibits in museums, but there are kernels in each one that support the readings that we have had two this semester.
More importantly, Fielding lays out four design areas that he thinks are significant in any new designs of formal (and informal, in my opinion) learning designs. They are (my explanations, not Randy’s):
The Campfire: a place where a group can gather around, share information, tell stories, and create a social context for their learning. This area has a sequence or synchronized mission to it.
The Watering hole: a more informal place to gather, that allows Asynchronous and unstructured sharing.
The Cave space: this area is designed for more quiet, reflective, individualized learning. A study area, a workroom, an out-of-the-way place.
Real life: spaces that are outdoors, or authentic for learning, experiment, grappling, learning with real objects.

At the end of his presentation, Randy shared a matrix that has been developed to aid schools in determining whether their design meets 21st-century goals. The instrument is called the Educational Facilities Effectiveness Instrument. The website where it is located is here:

The instrument includes criteria like entryway, technology readiness, supporting small learning communities, inclusion of learning studios, storage, transparency, casual eating areas, music and performance areas, outdoor learning, etc. In total there are 200 criteria that are assessed with this instrument. It includes images/exemplars of each category to prompt designers to consider ways to include these.

Some images from his slideshow might paint this a little better:

plc diagram




big design

Are all of these criteria relevant for our thinking about informal learning environments? Probably not, but these prompts would lead one to really identify what areas in your informal environment you really wanted to focus on. For instance, maybe the addition of considering how outdoor areas might expand the kinds of experiences you offer is worth considering. The small way, the Sinclair Library transformation, models this. There was an outdoor lanai area that was redone, with furniture, better lighting, etc. and the result was increased usage on the part of students, who found the area inviting and welcoming. The Waikiki aquarium utilizes very well outdoor areas for their reef tank, small presentation areas, and fish and monk seal exhibit. The ability to be outside changes the feel of the environment, and creates context from the indoor and outdoor experiences of the facility.
So we have a wide range of opportunity as designers. Sometimes it’s weekend repainting and asking for donations of furniture like the Sinclair Library. Sometimes we have the opportunity to design from the ground up, as in the Bishop Museum and science Center. And other times, we can redesign with some resources on spaces into new learning areas. Instruments like the EFEI give a context upon which we can draw out our thinking and our understanding of the research on visitor experience and learning to best design old places new.

A New Layer of Interaction in the World – Augmenting Reality

Readings from this week:

Black, G. (2005). The engaging museum : developing museums for visitor involvement. London ; New York: Routledge.
(Chapter 7: Applying the principles of interpretation to museum display.)

Gammon, B. (2003). Assessing Learning in the Museum Environment [Electronic Version], from

Hein, G. E. (1998). Learning in the museum. London ; New York: Routledge.
(Chapter 8: the construvist Museum)

Standards for Museum Exhibitions and Indicators of Excellence. (2009). Retrieved September 16, 2009, 2009, from

So the main focus both in the readings in their class discussion centered around ways to both analyze, and engage learners in museum environments. My interest this week stemmed from a some examples that Peter gave during class that triggered some new thinking in my mind about ways to build in learner centered information, and the potential to assess that real-time.
Three of the examples that Peter gave were virtual guides: one of multimedia CD of The Galleria dell’Accademia, which is where the statue of David from Michelangelo is held, amongst many other significant works. This CD started my thinking about a new way to think of informal learning. At one level, it’s just a standard virtual tour: maps of the Museum with the exhibits labeled, visual 3-D imagery that allows a user to move through and approach exhibit objects, and layers of information that can be pulled up on any given object such as historical information, connections to other pieces in the exhibit, embedded images in either movies. Peter mentioned, and I agree, that although this multimedia product was available when you leave the museum in the gift store, it would have best been situated at the entrance to the museum, to guide the visitor, shape their understanding of the scope of the exhibits offered, and build in prior knowledge before they approach the actual objects. All of these things are good instructional design ideas.
He also showed us a virtual tour of Pompeii, in which a view of the current site was slowly reconstructed into the best understanding of what it looked like at its height 2000 years ago. Probably the striking thing with this visit was the fact that we often only see the ground-level of these sites, and have a hard time imagining things like roof lines and second stories. In particular, we visited the theater and seeing how high the edifice was built upon the stage, the fact that the seats were covered under a canopy, really got me thinking about how important that layer of information matters when we view objects and sites.
The third interface that he showed us, was of the Museum in Naples that had viewers interact with the visual display on frescoes before they entered the museum. The wall sized virtual display allow the user to reach out, zoom in, and interact with the frescoes, with supporting text and audio that explains the historical significance of areas of the fresco. This is a huge improvement in engaging the learner, in giving them the hook (from Csikzentmihalyi), because it sets up a higher level of attentiveness, addresses multiple modes of learning and engagement, and allows self-directed ownership of the information.

So with all of that, it triggered in me an appreciation for what is about to come through mobile technology. There were three separate, but importantly connected pieces of information that I drew together through this process. The first was a TED lecture from 2009 by Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry, in which they show a device they call “the sixth sense” the wearable device that projects onto any object to hold in front of it, and impresses this with text, images, and even movies about the object. Imagine this device in a museum, where as you walk through and face exhibit objects, you get a very personalized layer of information that you can zoom in for more specifics, or zoom out to get a broader sense of what things you might draw from this experience. Maybe you haven’t thought about the historical connections from earlier readings you had made. The device knows that your family history and included connections to this artist four generations ago, and shows your family tree that makes the connection for you. Perhaps in your calendar in two months, you’re planning a visit to a city where other pieces by this artist are available, and it lets you know that. These are all possibilities that exist today, if these devices come to be. Here is the video from Ted that is the first generation of this device — think of what the implications of this will be in just a few years.

Another development that lays on top of this is the recent release of “did you know version 4”. This video, looks at trends in learning and technology. In looking at the version that was just released for September 2009, one of the key trends that it mentions is the likely scenario that pocket computers (like the iPhone or Google android device) will be the primary way that computing happens by 2020. It also mentions that “the computer in your cell phone today is 1 million times cheaper, and 1000 times more powerful and about 100,000 times smaller than the first one developed at MIT in 1965”. We are emerging into a new realm where instead of going to the computer, we will be wearing the computer, the information will be coming to us. From an informal learning perspective, this becomes extremely empowering, because we now have the opportunity to let the world be our Museum.

The last development that layers into this, is the recent release of augmented reality software for the iPhone. This is a paradigm shift in information technology, from my perspective. Much like the device developed at MIT, this kind of software gives a learner the ability to view the world through a lens of tailored information at any point that they choose. There is a video here of the first release of this kind of software, which allows a visitor to Paris to hold up to your iPhone, and get an augmented view, based on their direction you’re facing in their location (utilizing both compass, and GPS data):

Think of the implications of this from a learning perspective. If it is true, and I believe it is, that mobile devices are going to become more ubiquitous, the developers will seize on this to geocode rich data into a great deal of the world’s spaces, then one of the first places that this will become viable and rich are museums and other informal learning spaces, because they already have a dedicated audience, and content worth generating virtual information about. With the development of the semantic Web (Web 3.0), it will become more and more the experience for any user that the information will come to them, tailored to their history, their interests, and their capabilities. We’ve talked a lot in this class about the importance in museum design to take into account the learner experience. Augmented reality, whne it comes of age fully, will come along way to aid in this quest.

It’s significant to note, in my mind, that augmented reality as a technology, has been long awaiting full adoption — its “killer app”. The Gartner Group and their Hype Cycle has long held augmented reality in its early phases as a technology trigger. Whereas some technologies have moved quickly off of this early phase and into adoption, augmented reality has languished at the beginning of the curve for a decade.
Screen shot 2009-09-19 at 7.43.41 AM

Have we reached a turning point? I believe we have. We are currently in the baby steps of a new type of technological overlay in our world. It is already possible in most of the developed world to take out a pocket-sized device, connect to the global information network, and receive information almost instantly. We are only a few short steps away from the device knowing us, where we are, and what we want to know. In thinking about how this will influence informal learning environments, and even formal learning environments, which is where I spent my professional life, I can’t help but be excited at the opportunity to empower learners to fully take advantage of this.
I know some people will think this is the end of institutions of learning because the seat of power will shift from the experts (teachers) to the learners. I rather think it will create a new kind of learning environment where adult mentors (facilitators) will become masters of process and information utilization, and support learners (apprentices), to fully develop their interests and potential. Moreover, it will increae the importance of informal learning environments. Like all technologies, this will not come to all equally or at the same time. But it will be scalable in a way that may make adoption across socioeconomic and cultural differences much broader.
The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades (but they better have an interactive overlay built into them…)