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.

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

Week 6 Second Life Ruminations

week 6 reflection

This week was the start of school at MPI. As a result, I spend a lot of my time helping teachers that struggle with technology to their basics set up — online syllabi, electronic grade books, network and Internet accounts, e-mail problems, etc.
I also spend time with the early adopters trying new things: social groups in nings, use of Moodle to support instruction (forums, Voicethread’s, podcasts, etc.)
In working with one of our weaker technology users today, it struck me about a quote from Heisenberg or Bohr back in the 1920’s or so (regarding understanding concepts in science):
“when we don’t understand the problem, it is impossible; when we understand it, it becomes trivial”
In so many ways, this last six weeks in our Second Life class has been an example of that. It seems that almost every class one of us will find themselves in a awkward position where our lack of understanding shows that we don’t know how to do something basic: sitting down, wearing an object, changing the texture, etc. Now, six weeks in, most things seem simple: trivial. There are still things that I don’t know and think would be valuable to understand. The magic of the Linden scripting language, and what it implies for designing is a huge topic that we did not cover in the class, other than to change values in scripts to cause hovering text, or color of text, or images that were referenced. Clearly, without a complete understanding of scripting, the real design experience of Second Life is going to be a weak effort at best — copying or adapting ideas from other people.
As an example, in our project the value of the communication board became obvious to me. I looked around to find tutorials on how to build some kind of note board that allowed posting of people’s comments. Eventually, I just purchased one from XLstreet for $1.30. At that price, it was hard to justify spending 5 to 10 hours of my time designing something that already been invented. Yet, I feel I cheated by not designing it myself. An uneasy tension between creation and adoption.

If I have time, I will try and post one more time to put some final thoughts down about this class. It has been a lot of fun and challenging and more than anything I appreciat how the structure has both tackled research AND hands-on construction. A job well done to Dr Peter Leong (SL Ikaika Miles) and his able Assistant Rebecca Meeder (SL Porfessor Swartz)

Second Life Ruminations Week 5

week 5 reflection

summary thoughts
article on leatchers leaving profession

current and future potential

So as we were in the last two weeks of the class, I keep coming back to how virtual worlds and in particular Second Life can be forces to support and improve education. I still am convinced, as I have been for many years, math the best parts of Second Life offer opportunities for education that may yet prove to be powerful and pervasive In the next five years.
and it’s happening, perhaps, at a moment not too soon. I read this past weekend and article from the Washington Post written by a teacher who after less than five years was leaving the profession. Her story of lack of recognition, problems with the system, evaluation that rewarded playing it safe instead of taking risks alliance with many of the stories I hear from teachers long in the profession and just at the beginning of their careers. Her story is here:
at the same time, Robert Witt, who is the head of Hawaii Independent schools, spoke to our faculty on Friday and encouraged us to find ways to reinvent our institution, for the children, and for the sake of trying to keep education from sliding into an irrelevant institution. He shared a video from the national commission on teaching and America’s future that explored the issue of teachers leaving the profession. The video is here:

So what does this have to do with Second Life? In some ways, Second Life is not yet ready for prime time, at least not in secondary education, and yet it offers an opportunity to reinvigorate and challenge the status quo for students and teachers. Whether it is taking advantage of adolescence and support of accepting nature of social media and online virtual realities, or possibility that virtual worlds opened up in time, space, connectedness, simulation the time needs to be right pretty soon if it is to have any impact in helping education from sliding further into decline.
The opportunity for students in Second Life to link up with peers and mentors, which is part of the new paradigm of 21st-century learning opens its potential and paints a possible future where we honor more of adolescents’ native abilities, energies and potential than we do right now. I’ve been teaching for 27 years and seen the potential and sometimes the fulfillment of the promise of technologies in education. With 15 to 20 more years education in front of me, I will be there and hopefully leading the charge to see tools like Second Life support dramatically different models of school transformation.

Second Life Ruminations week 4

Some things in my head this week regarding Second Life and what we’re learning both in class, and how the filtered lens that I use sees it.
Regarding class activities:
we spent one period this week looking specifically at sounds, and how they are both used as well as the skills of bringing them into Second Life. We visited a site — a garden called new Hope Sound garden
it was striking for what it brought to the sensory experience that is unique to audio. Birds chirping, bees buzzing, rain and wind these all have unique sensory experiences that give us a sense of mood and place. It strikes me that coming back from a recent trip to Kona Village resort, the thing I enjoy most about it is the sense of serenity — no motorized sounds: cars, air conditioners, radios, TVs — nothing. Permeating the resort is a sense of when, birds, and ocean — very serene.
So this experience in the garden was both powerful, and refreshing because it allowed the visitor to detach themselves, even if for just a minute, from the busyness around them.

Now tied in with that, I was reflecting on a research article that I find particularly powerful from a MacArthur foundation grant written by Mizuko Ito that is titled “living and learning with new media: summary of findings from the Digital youth Project”

this is a great read, that looks at the different ways that young learners in particular news new media. One of the profound ideas that they develop through their ethnographic study, is two ways that use use social media: friendship driven and interest driven. Although I have not read all of the article, yet, it is clear that this developed idea is important in learning institution. Essentially, learners use social media through friendships to build relationships, and may use interest driven connections to help them build new knowledge. How to Second Life into this framework?
Although many of the experiences in Second Life lineup with friendship driven activities — social events, explorations with friends, communication, It is clear that if we are going to look at Second Life as a learning platform, we need to take advantage of the interest driven nature of social networks for adolescents.

article finishes with this quote:
“Kids’ participation in networked publics suggests some new ways of thinking about the role
of public education. Rather than thinking of public education as a burden that schools must
shoulder on their own, what would it mean to think of public education as a responsibility of a
more distributed network of people and institutions? And rather than assuming that education
is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of education as
a process of guiding kids’ participation in public life more generally, a public life that includes
social, recreational, and civic engagement? And finally, what would it mean to enlist help in this
endeavor from an engaged and diverse set of publics that are broader than what we tradition-
ally think of as educational and civic institutions? In addition to publics that are dominated by
adult interests, these publics should include those that are relevant and accessible to kids now,
where they can find role models, recognition, friends, and collaborators who are co-participants
in the journey of growing up in a digital age. We hope that our research has stimulated discus-
sion of these questions.”
so sometimes we are thinking of Second Life as a venue that we will build old schools new. another avenue that this article suggests is thinking of these new learning environments as extensions of learning experiences that we haven’t yet fully utilized. Not sure where we go with that, but it’s a provocative thought all the same.
The article in full can be found at this address:{83F36A9D-A8DE-4496-B8F9-52C3C2416216}&notoc=1

or shortened:


Second Life Ruminations Week 3

Okay so this is my third week blog post and reflection on things that are in my head about our class, virtual worlds, and Second Life in particular. To start off, I have a funny story (okay, at least I think it’s funny).
So we’re in this highly technologic class, and meeting twice a week in a virtual environment, and on Thursday morning after Wednesday night’s class I fly to the big Island for a four-day vacation at Kona Village resort, which is the antithesis of technology. No TVs, no radios, no telephones, no air conditioning, No room service, no locks on the doors, all of the Hale (units) are individual, separated by considerable distance, with dirt pathways leading to the main beach and eating area. the entire resort is enveloped in serene silence — the sound of the ocean, birds in the trees, nothing else. Info here They do have free Internet access only in the business office available 24 hours a day, so I would go over late at night with my laptop and work on my assignments from there. To say the difference is stark between our Wednesday class, and this little slice of heaven on earth with no technology (how many times have you gone four days without carrying your cell phone or laptop with you?) Is putting it mildly. So one of the humorous things that happened, was me walking by the pool one day then glancing over it and seeing the heads of people in their lounge chairs and bobbing in the pool and waiting for the picture to rez better so I could see their name and title above their heads… I am not making this up it actually went through my head for a couple of seconds! I wonder if anyone else in our class has had the experience in real world.
Producers vs Consumers
So anyhow, my thinking on class this week, is on producers versus consumers. One of the goals that I’ve had for my staff as we have adopted a broad range of technologies on our campus, has been to evolve teacher thinking from assuming premade content and activities with technology to developing activities with their student’s that make them producers. For example, it is one thing to have students view a lesson in a science class or concept being taught through a video or YouTube. It is an entirely different thing to have students create instructional videos that they can use to teach others. From a standpoint of cognitive hierarchy, is an entirely different thing to teach a lesson, design the scope, storyboard the concept, shoot, arranged talent, edit, and manage the resource than it is to be just a consumer of someone else’s. It’s very reminiscent for me that early in my modeling physics training at Arizona State University in 1995, that when the complaint came that students doing physics — really doing physics as a community of scientific researchers, was painfully slow and challenging. When the complaint was raised that we could cover the material faster by just telling the students about it, one of our mentors, Larry Dukerich, reminded us that the definition for “cover” was “to obscure from view”.
So where does this fit in with Second Life? The last two weeks in our class we are taking time each meeting to learn how to construct objects — a purse which contained objects, the media station, selecting and editing clothing, etc. None of these are particularly easy, certainly not intuitive to do. So it’s been bothering me, that if I were going to convince a teacher to use Second Life, they would almost certainly need to start and maybe stay, for that matter, as a consumer. By that I mean, they might go to sites that already have been made: a tour of a virtual gallery, flying inside the cell, sitting in and participating in a Socratic dialogue on algebra, you get the idea…
But my main stripe is to have teachers and students create things, not just consume them. Thus, the inherent tension for me, because the amount of time it takes to understand how to build objects in Second Life, makes this an almost impossibility for most students in classes.
Does that mean Second Life can’t be a powerful learning environment for teachers and students? I don’t think so, but I do need to rethink my approach to looking at it. I need to think of this as more of a social space than a laboratory space. Perhaps, at least for now, a powerful aspect of Second Life for me as a technology director, is its ability to be used as a social format. Teachers could meet here with students and teleport to interesting places together — to experience and learn as a community. Perhaps a teacher might take students to an MIT lecture, or arrange an expert to comment and demonstrates something to a class. Powerful? Surely. Best use of the environment? Not really, but until the tools or the students own prior knowledge allow easier construction we are still looking at Second Life as a consumer environment, not a producer environment.
And that’s the way it is… for now

Second Life Ruminations Week 2 addendum

My friend Dean who is also taking the class had a really interesting post that I wanted to ruminate on a little more… his post included the following paragraph

A couple of observations…co-presence or ambient awareness – the sense of being there and connected, is really evident when we’re in Second Life. I mean it literally seems we’re meeting face-to-face when we’re in class and meeting with our groups. I wonder if it’s because, subconsciously, we know that someone is controlling each avatar we see in class? It was funny when Mark, Cheryl and I met a few nights ago in Second Life. At the end of our meeting both Mark and I complemented Cheryl’s dress- her Second Life dress. It was a beautiful dress! The lines are getting blurred. Are we beginning to interact with avatars in Second Life or are they merely a window to the person behind the avatar? That would be an interesting study – to see who we begin to associate more with when we’re in a virtual world, avatars or the people who create and control them? In our minds, do we acknowledge a difference or are one in the same? Is Techtiki and Dean the same? Do people in class think that Techtiki and Dean are the same, think the same, act the same, etc.? I think the methods of communication impact our perceptions. I believe it’s easier to represent yourself differently if you only use local chat and IM. It’s harder to do so when you use audio. Not sure if I’m making sense, but I’d like to follow this train of thought throughout the class and see how I feel at the end. Stay tuned….

Link back to his blog here:

my response is below:

Hi Dean
I enjoyed reading what you wrote about the Blurred line in the virtual world and reality. I agree with you that there is a level of comfort and interaction that is happening now is that is surprising. I think you pose a particularly intriguing question about identity — in world and real world. It is one thing in Second Life when we are using this class with an instructor. In that case, we take an extension of our identity, but not really a new one.
I am quite certain that there is a large percentage of Second Life participants that “jump the fence” and take on a new identity — explore new ways of communicating, expressing, being. At one level I find this a little off putting, as interactions in Second Life ought to be the real thing. In this sense it is like going to a costume party, where people take on the identities of the characters they are dressed as. I guess I would think of this as a novelty, but I wouldn’t expect to come back to the party over and over again and interact with same fake identity each time. Maybe it’s the social nature in me, but I expect my interactions to be with the “real person”. But maybe that’s an indication of my age and my expectation or interaction.

Second Life Ruminations week 2

Second Life, hype cycles, and reality

So,I’ve been thinking alot this week about what I might write about for this blog post about my current feelings about Second Life. Some of the activities we did this week included visiting interesting Second Life sights and rating them using the SaLamander wiki’s learner engagement rating like experiential, role-play, diagnostic, etc. more info here:

we also spent time learning more about creating objects in Second Life — working with prims, editing and creating scenery, wearing and designing clothes.

we also completed a project in groups of three where we chose a general theme, and then found 15 resources both in world and out of world and gave brief descriptions of these, to help novice and regular users of Second Life to navigate their world better.

So while all this was happening, in the back of my mind I’m thinking about where Second Life is in adoption. One of the articles we read in the first week (Jennings and Collins) used Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovations research to map out technology use and contrasted Early Adopters to Early Majority. They quote an article from Moore that defines behavior differences between these two groups. A few examples:
early adopters favor of revolutionary change, early majority favor evolutionary change
early adopters are visionary, early majority are pragmatic
early adopters are willing to experiment, early majority want proven applications
and probably most importantly:
early adopters are generally self-sufficient, whereas early majority may need significant support

so for those that understand Gartner’s hype cycle, there is a problem inherent in the current place where Second Life is and its future. (original source here:

For those unfamiliar with the curve – a quick pic and summary:

2008 Gartner Hype Cycle

When technologies are first introduced, there is usually a period of inflated expectations: excitement around the new technology. This is where your early adopters would jump on board and get excited. Over some timeframe, there is a period of disillusionment where the process of getting it from a small percentage (5 or 10%) to a larger adoptance is hung up on a variety of factors: ease of interface, cost, flexibility, inflated expectations, applicability, etc.
As larger awareness and usability occurs, it becomes more adopted and it eventually becomes mainstream reaching the plateau of productivity. What is interesting about this curve is that it is not time-dependent. Technologies like augmented reality and mobile robots have been in the first phase of adopting for more than a decade. Other technologies like GPS climbed into fairly high adoptance in just a few years. So where is Second Life here? In this 2008 graphic, Public virtual worlds are in the trough of disillusionment. Some writing and thinking by Gartner indicate it may well be five or 10 more years before these become more mainstream.
…of course, the important question is why?
For a technology to move past disillusionment, there needs to be a crystallization of utility and need that begins to drive more use. We are still at the point in Second Life where a combination of factors keep the utility and need at a minimum.
As many of us have found in traveling virtual worlds, although there is an excitement and engagement in well-designed ones, this is still far from the universal experience. Just as importantly, the requirements to participate, both from a technology and usability standpoint, are still not nearly high enough engage more than a small percentage of technology users.
So what does that mean I think about Second Life at this point? This reminds me a lot of the early days of the World Wide Web. I remember coming back from a 1993 conference having seen the first version of NASA’s demonstration of the Dead Sea Scrolls via a web browser and told our school library and what a transformative experience it was to see artifacts through a graphical interface using the Mosaic web browser. Her response surprised me — I remember her saying that although viewing through a browser might be an interesting experience, users would still need to know protocols like telnet and FTP in order to use the Internet as a learning tool.
I guess that summarizes how I feel about Second Life at this point. I see the promise of an engaging and immersive environment, but realistically see more years (five?) before it begins to climb up slope of enlightenment.
Caveat: of course, when I started playing with Twitter a year ago, I could’ve never imagined it would evolve into the worldwide phenomena it has become in such a short time. Of course, Twitter had some things going for it that enable the quick adoptance. it has a platform that uses SMS, which had just become a mainstream tool, not just for adolescents, but for adults. The ease of use made it much quicker to be adopted as well.
So, maybe there is a seminal moment waiting for the immersive virtual worlds that will push it up the curve — uniform interface between environments? Easier entry point for beginners? Less traffic and bandwidth demand participation? Who knows? Time will tell…

second life ruminations #2

This is a reflection on the assigned reading:


“Virtual reality (VR) can be defined
as a class of computer-controlled multisensor y communication
technologies that allow more intuitive interactions with data
and involve human senses in new ways”

This article starts with an overview of definitions of virtual reality and some really thinking about what immersive virtual environments are about. It then walks through the history of virtual worlds from the 1980s. .

one of the drawbacks of this article, is that it was published before the emergence of real Second Life and MUVE developments in the early 2000s, therefore although it serves as a historical reference and an interesting discussion of the different ways that virtual worlds have been envisioned and developed, it doesn’t address current development issues. For example, the huge chasm between what gamers live on a daily basis and immersive virtual worlds, and the development of multiuser experiences, and watch was understood at the end of the last decade.

Thurman and Matoon – propose three dimensions which to view the development of virtual reality
1. Provocative idea about Verity dimension — does the virtual worlds make reality, or does it encompass abstract and novel ideas that don’t correspond to reality? Another way of thinking of the development of virtual worlds…

integration dimension — how well the human is brought into the environment
interface dimension — scale ranging from natural to artificial

“To summarize, we will be examining 10 types of virtual re-
ality: (1) Immersive first-person, (2) Augmented reality (a vari-
ation of immersive reality), (3) Through the window, (4) Mir-
ror world, (5) Waldo World (Virtual characters), (6) Chamber
world, (7) Cab simulator environment, (8) Cyberspace, (9) the
VisionDome, and (10) the Experience Learning System.”

aside from Mark — the recent release of the Microsoft gaming experience has potential to elevate the sense of immersion higher by making natural body movements correspond to what’s happening in the immersive world.

There was some discussion of blog mentioned reality, and a recent TED lecture that had a demonstration of a small device that projects information onto objects as it senses them was a powerful indication of how real-time sensory feedback will in the short future allow a human cloud computer interface that will be a new way of thinking of augmented reality. I’ll try to post the link for that lecture when I get back online

It’s interesting to read about their sports augmented reality stories here, as this article predates the release on the Nintendo Wii platforms, I think it would have been provocative to see how the authors would have addressed the development of that tool in the schema.

The authors also talk about Azuma’s research and medical applications of augmented reality refer to the link here-∼azuma/azuma-AR.html

interesting points being made when the author talks about in your worlds: first of all, the obvious interest in the gaming world example given is shooting hoops. But more importantly, and mentioned secondarily surprisingly, is the observation that players in the mirror worlds since they stand apart from the world itself can have social interaction and therefore an opportunity for a more interactive environment. This precluded the nature of multiuser virtual environments as the most notable example of the importance of social learning and the real draw for users of being in such a world. It is somewhat surprising that as late as 2001 that the nature of social interaction in immersive worlds would turn out to be such an important draw for users (for example Second Life is more about the social interaction that it is about just the information). Sometimes we focus so much on the technology, that we miss the implication in the human setting entirely.

An interesting aside about the cab environment is that in 1997 I had an opportunity to “land the space shuttle” in the virtual motion simulator at NASA Ames research Center. The simulator, which had 6° of freedom in a 10 story tall building gave one a truce sense of motion and interface, and was used as a high fidelity way to train astronauts on the conditions of landing the Space shuttle. it is amazing to me now 10 years later and more staff the simulators have become so common, that pilots of Jets never trained in real jets anymore, but use simulators. As is often quoted, the first time a pilot lands a actual 747, she has a full complement of passengers aboard – a little unnerving, for sure, but a testimony to the fidelity and veracity of these simulators

The Virtual Reality and Education Lab (VREL) East Carolina
University, in Greenville, North Carolina is one organization that
provides leadership in promoting education in the schools (Auld
& Pantelidis, 1994; Pantelidis, 1993, 1994). The Web site for

Good idea from article:
It will be important to articulate a research agenda specif-
ically relating to virtual reality and education. Fennington and
Loge (1992) identify the following issues: (1) How is learning
in virtual reality different from that of a traditional educational
environment? (2) What do we know about multisensor y learn-
ing that will be of value in determining the effectiveness of this
technology? (3) How are learning styles enhanced or changed
by VR? and (4) What kinds of research will be needed to as-
sist instructional designers in developing effective VR learning

the authors talk a bit about “affordances” – in understanding the research of virtual worlds. good quote
Although a virtual world may differ from the real world, virtual objects and environments must provide some measure of the affordances of the objects and environments depicted (standing in for the real-world) in order to support natural vision (perceptualization) more fully.

interesting perspectives from a couple of authors about thinking our cyberspace as a theatrical medium — the notion that participants are playing out roles in creating stories in spaces. Authors include Brenda Laurel, and Randall Walser.

interesting perspective by McLellan one situated learning which I think is excellent perspective to draw on she defines it:
“Therefore,this knowledge must be learned
in context—in the actual work setting or a highly realistic or
“virtual” surrogate of the actual work environment. The situated learning model features apprenticeship, collaboration, reflection, coaching, multiple practice, and will articulation. It also emphasizes technology and stories.”

from that experience design perspective, there is a nice, simple model from Shedroff that talks about each experience needing attraction (something that draws us in) engagement (experiences that make us part of the world) and conclusion (some sort of resolution that let’s us know we’ve accomplished what is in front of us). This is a great place to think about maybe the learning activity we need to design, as we can build in I think good examples of these three views and experience in the virtual world.

there is a nice distinction made about services versus experiences as an economic perspective. For example they distinguish a service to a client versus experience for a guest (for example Disney) – interesting perspective

one of the articles quoted from 1993 Bricken and Byrne, had students construct objects in virtual worlds. Considering this was 16 years ago, the interface by nature was very rudimentary and clunky, which presented all kinds of problems. All the same new research indicates a powerful opportunities there. I’d be interested in seeing in the last four years what research if any exists on student learning with the same model and design. In particular, given the greater ease of graphic rendering, manipulation, and student facilities with 3-D worlds, I would think that the cognitive process and learning environment would be reduced which would improve the processing capability to think about implications of their design more.

It’s interesting in the conversation about attitudinal responses to virtual worlds, but research from 1992 (Heeter) indicated issues with the tension between creating a complex enough environment that is engaging, it is simple enough environment for easy entry point. The current crop of immersive games like World of Warcraft, indicate a way by which repetitive access to learning environments seem to trump some of the novice fear that used to exist almost 20 years ago. Also, it came out that playing against other humans was much more desired than against virtual opponents — something that seems to be playing out in social learning environments today. Wake up another interesting research finding was the difference in gender — boys much more likely to play the game battle tech – more gender-neutral activities in Second Life in World of Warcraft scene indicate that the gender differences are evaporating (Pew Center in Internet life data for example)