Sheltons Organic Turkey

if I empty out all the unimportant stuff here, maybe there'll be more room in my head for important things

name: shelton brett
location: western u.s.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

an end to the cynacism? not exactly

Okay, just starting to realize that most of what I write on this thing has a really negative tone, and since I don't consider myself especially negative, that expressing some positives is a good idea. So now would be a good time to do that, related to the current conference.

It's been fabulous to connect with the old acquaintances I've met previously at this--and other related--conferences. I've had an excellent time discussing theory and practice, and learning more about what other research is going on in my interest space. So generally, the conference has been great! It's small enough so that you can interact with many people and actually do some professional socializing. That, along with a lot of good, interesting work, reinvigorates the intellectual engines and reminds me why I love my job and how great this field is.

So this would not be an end to the cheekiness, rather a brief holiday from the cynacism to remind myself that where I'm at and what I'm doing is really, really fun.

overheard at the conference...

Statements people have heard me say here at the Int’l Conf. of the We’re into being Exclusivie Group (unofficial title, after learning that the flagship journal is NOT blind reviewed):

  • My submission was rejected like New Coke.
  • “Direct Manipulation Animation” is neither direct nor manipulation. Discuss.
  • (whispered to neighbor) How did this crap get past the review process?
  • Did you know you can just download learning? Just go to downloadlearning dot com. Huh, if I knew it was that simple I never would have gone to school. Just should’ve downloaded it.
  • I think my MacBook processor just lit my pants on fire.
  • I’m pretty sure that “accidental learning” doesn’t exist. And furthermore, just participating in an activity doesn’t mean you’re learning something either. I just participated in this conference session and I’m pretty sure after listening to these people that I’m dumber now than I was when the session began.

The best idea I’ve had at this conference had to do with scaling up of my research so that it can create impact at the system level. If I truly want something implemented, it’s clear how to make it work. “Look to the arches.” How did McDonalds get the McGriddle on the menu? Lots of PR and something that people liked. So if you’re trying to get something widely adopted, you have to have a lot of influence, access to a lot of resources (money, people and places). And most importantly, tasty meat surrounded by sugary goodness.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

random thoughts extended

At this conference, a reoccurring theme in nearly all sessions either dealt directly or around the push-pull issues of instructional design for educational games.

The attempts to reconcile the differences between designing educational games and the traditional models for designing instruction are daunting at the least, and extremely messy. One recent attempt was so convoluted and necessitated so many constraints for the game that the recommendations included aspects of AI, pedagogical agents, appropriate reflection, and of course had to be driven from highly organized and structured models. A fantastic attempt at “getting it all” without leaving out anything, but one wonders if any game could incorporate each of the issues, especially at a moderate or low-level of technical sophistication. The idea eschews a system that can be transferred across areas of content and instructional materials, it should be useful for many subjects with the same gameplay underneath.

This is in sharp contrast to my experience and ideas of others (an early session at the conference) who describe game activity as related to meaningful learning. In their session we started with a game that included bidding a number of beads to “win” the card. The players were asked to redesign the game to teach a number of different subjects, from Shakespeare to trigonometry. Our group was assigned “interpersonal relationships.” From what I could tell, all groups failed in their attempt to modify the current game in a way that could really produce complex learning. This seemed to confirm my expectation—learning activity needs to be aligned with instructional objectives.

In other words, you can’t just stick content into exiting game structures and expect the game to be fun, or have the same results as a game whose content was specifically designed for that activity. Learning games must be considered as contextual entities, especially from a design standpoint, if they are to truly be beneficial for complex thinking. This is a lesson we learned in learning sciences, moving away from traditional instructional design models and practices that did not allow for significant flexibility and modification in its procedures. It’s also a lesson they’re slowly learning in the design and development of learning objects. Packets of information created for use, reuse, and remixing need to be flexible enough to come in different sizes and cultures. In other words, to be effective the learning object must be adaptable and localizable to whatever context in which it will be used. Perhaps this is the lesson we should take for "reconciling" the push-pull of educational game design.

father's day nada fiction

Every year we used to go to my grandparents’ ranch for Easter Sunday. The highlight of the day was the Easter egg hunt where the adults would fill multi-colored plastic eggs with jellybeans and foil-covered chocolate, then hide them around the yard. The ten or so of us grandchildren could hardly sit through brunch with the lure of the hunt awaiting us. Grandpa would sit back after his meal, look around the table at the kids, and say with a wink and a grin, “I think I heard the bunny out there,” and then we'd jump out of our seats and head for the door. Grandpa grew up homesteading in the hills of Western Montana, he lost two of his siblings to influenza in the 1920s, and never initiated hugs or kisses.

The year I turned six, I remember Grandpa taking me aside during the hunt and leading me around the barn to a thicket of grass, far away from the other kids and colored eggs. “I think I saw the bunny put one in there,” he said, pointing to an opening behind the downspout, where I could barely make out the narrow end of a lavender egg. It had a small pocketknife in it, with pearl inlay being held in place by the tiniest of screws. “That’s the knife my mother used cleaning fish for us when I was a boy. That knife helped get us through some terrible winters,” he said with a smile.

The next year, without a word from Grandpa, I snuck around the corner to the grassy area by the downspout and discovered the lavender egg. It held an old wristwatch that Grandpa bought when he visited San Francisco for the first time. The next year, I found a silver locket with a baby picture in it. Another year I found a few strange coins in the egg from a country I’d never heard of.

As the years went on, the gifts got stranger. Once he left me a small, lumpy chunk of metal that he found when planting his garden. One year the egg held an old dog collar, stained with dirt and blood. One of the last years the lavender egg held a bullet from WWII with a piece of paper and the word "SORRY" written on it. After Gram died, the grass around the barn turned to Russian thistles. That year's Easter, an old abandoned bird’s nest was stuffed in the downspout. The final year, the lavender egg was there, but it was crushed into small pieces and arranged into a neat pile. It was the last time we went to the ranch for Easter. Grandpa died a few months later.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

random small thoughts on the day

Originally uploaded by sheltonbrett.
I'm at a conference today that is focused on games and learning, and there's a whole lot of thoughts running through my head.

What's the deal with "incidental learning" or "accidential learning" as some people like to call it? Seems to be a favorite phrase of people here, as if hoping that spending thousands of hours playing online games have to produce meaningful learning. One gentleman had the onions to acutally admit that he learned some geography about the Carribbean Islands after playing "Pirates" for (literally) months. Huh? So what?! I still see no evidence of complex thought or learning of any significance that can be attributed to this phenomenon. So why keep using it as an excuse to shove it at schoolchildren when no actual value can be found?

On that note, someone did mention that if this "accident" happens to expose a student to new ideas or interests than they otherwise would not have known, then it's not necessarily a bad thing. Good point. But then it falls into a different category.

A colleague today at dinner was listening to one of my projects and actually sincerely told me my idea was "brilliant." I think that's a first one for me, no one has ever used that word with me before. But of course, I can't really believe it, unless I also believe all those people who tell me my stuff is crap.

Another woman asked a group of MMORG players/developers to help with an "anomoly in her data," as she described it. For some unknown reason to her, around 30% of the players in the MMORG she was studying would not admit that they were learning any real-world transferrable skills by participating in the game environment. No matter how much she pushed them, they insisted they were just playing a game. How rude, and truly unbelivable, she thought! Members of this group were quick to assure her that these gamers had a culture where they do not admit to participating in anything establishment, and certainly not anything educational. Either that, or they were simply not aware of the many transferable skills they were learning. Well, I suppose this could be true. But rather than assume a conclusion that the players were too stupid to realize the results of their own actions, or that they must be jaded youth who refuse to cow-tow to mom-and-dad's view of what's good for them, why don't we actually consider the possibility that THEY AREN"T LEARNING ANY TRANSFERRABLE SKILLS. To this group, that's apparently an unthinkable option. It was never brought up as a possibility. A nice example of losing all form of subjectivity when participating in, and taking stock in, the environment that you're studying.

Madison, Wisconsin is a beautiful place with great people. I keep wanting to make cheese jokes but dangit, everyone is so darn pleasant it's difficult to make fun. Plus, those folks at Playboy know what they're doing when they rate party schools. The nightlife in the middle of summer on a Thursday is better than any after-finals parties in Utah.

My presentation went very smooth, and I think might have some footing for a follow-up presentation next year if I want to come back. If tomorrow is as good as today, I think I probably will want to.

I need to buy one of those foam cheese hats. They cost $20 and I'd never wear it. But I gotta have one.

Oh by the way, the picture here is a familiar one-- my fave childhood toy Nerfman, but this version is surrounded by one of those horrendous "successories" kinds of formats. Want to mock these things by creating one of your own? Go to this site.