Tag Archives: education

Gaming likely to be big part of Obama’s $4B computer science initiative

Polygon:

Game designers know how to create engaging, fun and compelling experiences, he said. They also know how to design an experience that strikes the balance between being hard enough to push a person to learn, but not so hard that it discourages them. Finally, he said, games are great at stealth assessment.

“When you hit level 60 in World of Warcraft, you don’t then take a paper and pencil test; getting to that point is an indication that you’re good at the game,” Kalil said.

Applied to education, those design tenets can be used to create adaptive learning customized to the needs of individual students.

“You’re always going to need great teachers, but I think there are a number of ways video games can contribute,” he said. “Not only will they help with getting more students involved, it will ensure strong interest.”

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Home Economics 2.0

I’ve spent the better part of my career in technical support roles; hours upon hours equating RAM to freeways and CPU-cores to cooks in a kitchen. Countless individuals taking backup advice with a “ya, sure” and a head nod. People terrified over the word “server” and unassuming over the word “cloud”. It baffles me how such basic knowledge is so foreign.

We spend large parts if not the majority of our days wrapped up in feeds and phones, devices and displays. How is it that none of us understand the fundamentals of how they operate?

I am not talking about the Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics (STEM) behind everyday objects. I am not talking about teaching higher level concepts or tinkering with “niche” concepts like geometry, chemistry, or physics. I am talking about the everyday. I am talking about principle understanding of devices we fear to go without. Tools we use more than anything else in our lives!

Why is it that computer classes are electives? Why is it that those enamored with video games are the only ones expected to understand the relationship between browser tabs and RAM? Why is it that those obsessed with science fiction, participating in chess club, or enrolled in AP classes are the only ones expected to understand the severities of hard shutdowns? Why should cookies, encryption, or battery drain be mysteries to anyone born into today’s world; mysteries to those touching unfathomable technology at 12-months-old?

This is not STEM. This is fundamental. This is commonplace. This is home economics.

Wikipedia:

Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS), also known as home economics, is the profession and field of study that deals with the economics and management of the home and community.[1]The field deals with the relationship between individuals, families, and communities, and the environment in which they live.

As a subject of study, FCS is taught in secondary schoolscolleges and universitiesvocational schools, and in adult education centers; students include women and men. It prepares students for homemaking or professional careers, or to assist in preparing to fulfill real-life responsibilities at home. As a profession, it includes educators in the field and human services professionals.[2]

The field represents many disciplines including consumer science, nutrition, food preparation, parenting, early childhood education, family economics and resource management, human developmentinterior designtextiles, apparel design, as well as other related subjects. Family and Consumer Sciences education focuses on individuals and families living in society throughout the life span, thus dealing not only with families but also with their interrelationships with the communities. Other topics such as sexual educationfood management, and fire prevention might also be covered.

Not a single mention of computers, yet nearly half of our time is spent in front of a screen. (Source: KPCB)

The misunderstanding or incomprehension of OS differences, dot-version subtleties, and computer languages can be expected. What should not be expected is the misunderstanding of “memory” versus “disk space” or the incomprehension of a kilo/mega/giga/tera/petabyte.

I do not fault those without basic computer knowledge or those born into this embarrassing system. There are simple things about computers I’m sure I do not wholeheartedly understand. There are simple things I use every day that I don’t understand. I drive a car to work and still have a very little idea of how it operates. I’m intimidated by the cable, electric, and gas lines in my home. Hand me a toggle bolt (yes, I had to look it up) and I would swear it was a missing piece from an Erector Set. I’m a music junkie and I still have a hard time wrapping my head around the technology behind vinyl records and cassette tapes, let alone speakers themselves!

The lack of basic knowledge about the technology we utilize day-in and day-out, the technology we can’t go five minutes without touching, tapping, refreshing, or waking gives me chills. I’m sure I get more pleasure from solving technological problems for people than most, but I sure as hell get tired of the same questions day-in and day-out. I know this is much bigger than a blog post, but his needs to stop. Redefine Home Ec 101 and make it mandatory.

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GOTY: Rocksmith 2014

Not much weight should be put on Game of the Year. Just ask Griffin McElroy. And for a guy who obsesses over the industry, I’m ashamed to say that I had only played a handful of last year’s releases. While I played the best of the best, Mario Kart 8, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, and Broken Age to name a few, nothing has kept me coming back like Rocksmith 2014.

Apologies for the late review. I had only started playing days before the New Year.

Gameplay

I was a latecomer to the plastic-partying hysteria of Guitar Hero. My brother talked me into picking up Rockband (Guitar Hero with drums and a microphone for those unfamiliar) as a family activity. We had a blast, but I was never able to pry myself away from the drum kit. With a small background in music, the five-button toy guitars never satisfied. The drums were the closest I could get to a life-like experience. After leaving my high school rock band days well behind me, an itch for the satisfaction in controlling a real instrument began to percolate.

At it’s core, Rocksmith is built around the iconic Guitar Hero design: A reverse Star Wars crawl of notes streaming toward a fretboard with the player expected to strike said note at the right time. Where Rocksmith differs is the use of a real guitar; 138 notes vs. Guitar Hero’s 6.

From the get-go, I was extremely impressed by Rocksmith’s accuracy of note and chord recognition. Honest strikes and near misses are fed back in real-time just like Guitar Hero. Inaccuracies happen but typically err on the side of the player. Sure, there are inconsistencies here and there. If I missed a note in a chord, Rocksmith generally let it slide. However, when I can feel and hear exactly what I am playing, I know I am a cheat. (No amount of “gimmes” could extinguish my weight of guilt.) I didn’t need Rocksmith 2014 to tell me I was wrong. I was just as eager to jump back into the ring.

The player is offered three paths: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, and bass. In the instance of lead guitar, techniques are slowly introduced during the “Learn A Song” mode. They are also readily available in “Lessons”. The player starts by playing along with a songs using well spaced single notes. These notes slowly advance into chords, bends, slides, hammer-ons, pull-offs, tapping, etc. The scale of techniques offered by the game is shocking, not to mention the depth of the lessons and range of songs that utilize each technique.

Core

Where Rocksmith shines is the Learn A Song mode. There is a surprisingly vast array of songs in the catalog: from The Ramones to Rush to The Dear Hunter to Minus the Bear(!) to Mastodon. The player fas the choice to play each song straight through or focus on objectives such as mastering a bridge, finishing with a certain level of accuracy, or playing a mini-game that teaches a technique used in the song.

The killer feature, however, is Rocksmith’s ability to scale the difficulty of each song on the fly based on how well the player is performing. As I coolly played through La Sera’s “Love That’s Gone”, strumming full E5s and delicately plucking scattered notes, I was sure I had mastered the patterns. I was then caught off guard by a C#m that, at first, had only included A-flat and D-flat. After a few play-throughs and a headfake chorus, the chord had evolved, incorporating an E and another A-flat. Replaying the same song over and over without having to manually change difficulty is great. But more importantly, scaling the difficulty between individual sections previously mastered is brilliant. Imagine every time you played through World 1-1, new obstacles were introduced in the areas you excelled in.

Extras

In addition to learning songs, Rocksmith 2014 is packed with a plethora of supplemental modes, all serving individual importance and, quite possibly, to different audiences.

“Lessons” focus on individual techniques with accompanying videos and monitored playback that end in full songs. Lessons are repeated until mastered and are fairly enjoyable to revisit. Even the simple ones taught me something. And yes, the videos can be skipped.

“Guitarcade” focuses less on technique and more on music theory. Numerous surprisingly well designed games teach core skills in volume control, scales, and chord changes, among others. Be it the Streets of Rage style “Scale Warriors” or the Star Fox homage “Star Chords”, the level of detail in design, music, and art is top-notch.

That said, I have yet to jump at playing any of the “Guitarcade” mini-games. I don’t find them quite as engaging as the core “Learn A Song” mode or “Lessons”. Their presence within the greater Rocksmith game are a prime statement on edutainment; layering education on top of existing games (or vice versa) rarely produces a great experience. (Guitarcade) Building them together generally produces a far more engaging product. (Learn a Song)

To round out the list of features, “Session Mode” allows the player to build a band for an endless jam session. Similar to Apple’s GarageBand and Logic drummers, the band members the player chooses work for the player, not separately from the player. The AI play styles dynamically shift based on the player’s strumming patterns and rhythms.

Even with my lukewarm response to the “Guitarcade”, I can see a universe in which each of these secondary features are shipped as fantastic stand-alone products. To bundle them into the same package as the already fantastic core game is without a doubt a triumph in its own right. There is a level of finesse, execution, and love put into “Lessons”, “Guitarcade”, and “Session Mode” that seem to have be missing from major releases of late.

Falling Short

Where Rocksmith falls short is in guiding the player through recommended songs, lessons, and mini-games. It is clear that there was a desire to emphasize recommended paths, but it feels poorly executed. Rather just pressing “play” and letting Rocksmith 2014 take the wheel to automatically jump from song to mini-game back to the same song with an emphasis on a single verse and so forth, the player is forced to manually jump around in hopes that the recommendations are truly applicable.

In the case of playing “recommended” songs, I felt like I was playing through the entire catalog rather than focusing on where my skills needed work. In no time, Rocksmith took me from Johnny Ramone to Alex Lifeson before I could handle Dave Grohl. It took about 4 hours of play to realize sorting by “difficulty” rather than “recommended” was my desired style of play.

Conclusion

It’s been nearly 15 years since I began playing in a rock back. Nearly 15 years since the dream of becoming a rock star ever surfaced into my consciousness. Time, money, space, studies, work, responsibility: These things began to take priority after high school. The thing that made me feel most alive was put aside. It’s a shame that more effort was not made, that I lacked the confidence to perform on my own, or that I wouldn’t set aside a few hours a day to practice. (Also, I was never that good.) The older I got, the more I watched my rock ‘n roll glory days fade away.

Rocksmith 2014, through it’s brilliant use of familiar design, great song catalog, and level of detail, is quite possibly the best piece of edutainment software out there. Not only is it engaging, it is educational and addicting.  It is by no means perfect, with “recommendations” being a botched effort on potentially the strongest feature. But what it gets wrong pales in comparison to the core features it gets right. With surprise after surprise, “wow moment” after “wow moment”, Rocksmith 2014 kept hitting me in all of the sweet spots. And most importantly, it brought me back to my guitar.


Amazon | Rocksmith 2014 requires a guitar and a specialized 1/4 audio to USB cable.

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EyeWire

Years back, an odd desire to complete a coloring book developed. I never scratched the itch, but I may have just found a solution: EyeWire.

Gareth Cook, The New York Times:

In 2012, Seung started EyeWire, an online game that challenges the public to trace neuronal wiring — now using computers, not pens — in the retina of a mouse’s eye. Seung’s artificial-­intelligence algorithms process the raw images, then players earn points as they mark, paint-by-numbers style, the branches of a neuron through a three-dimensional cube. The game has attracted 165,000 players in 164 countries. In effect, Seung is employing artificial intelligence as a force multiplier for a global, all-volunteer army that has included Lorinda, a Missouri grandmother who also paints watercolors, and Iliyan (a.k.a. @crazyman4865), a high-school student in Bulgaria who once played for nearly 24 hours straight. Computers do what they can and then leave the rest to what remains the most potent pattern-recognition technology ever discovered: the human brain.

Ultimately, Seung still hopes that artificial intelligence will be able to handle the entire job. But in the meantime, he is working to recruit more help. In August, South Korea’s largest telecom company announced a partnership with EyeWire, running nationwide ads to bring in more players. In the next few years, Seung hopes to go bigger by enticing a company to turn EyeWire into a game with characters and a story line that people play purely for fun. “Think of what we could do,” Seung said, “if we could capture even a small fraction of the mental effort that goes into Angry Birds.”

EyeWire is the most addictive and challenging coloring book I have tried. It’s easy to loose track of time while filling in the neuronal wiring, not to mention the increased level of difficulty that follows the tutorial. Bonus: It’s for science!

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Chocolate-Covered Broccoli

Daphne Bavelier, TEDxCHUV: ‘Your brain on video games’:

Now, at this point, a number of you are probably wondering well, what are you waiting for, to put on the market a game that would be good for the attention of my grandmother and that she would actually enjoy, or a game that would be great to rehabilitate the vision of my grandson who has amblyopia, for example?

Well, we’re working on it, but here is a challenge. There are brain scientists like me that are beginning to understand what are the good ingredients in games to promote positive effects, and that’s what I’m going to call the broccoli side of the equation. There is an entertainment software industry which is extremely deft at coming up with appealing products that you can’t resist. That’s the chocolate side of the equation. The issue is we need to put the two together, and it’s a little bit like with food. Who really wants to eat chocolate-covered broccoli? None of you. And you probably have had that feeling, right, picking up an education game and sort of feeling, hmm, you know, it’s not really fun, it’s not really engaging. So what we need is really a new brand of chocolate, a brand of chocolate that is irresistible, that you really want to play, but that has all the ingredients, the good ingredients that are extracted from the broccoli that you can’t recognize but are still working on your brains. And we’re working on it, but it takes brain scientists to come and to get together, people that work in the entertainment software industry, and publishers, so these are not people that usually meet every day, but it’s actually doable, and we are on the right track. I’d like to leave you with that thought, and thank you for your attention.

I’m currently playing Valiant Hearts: The Great War. In speaking to the colleague that recommended the game, I told him it feels like perfect edutainment. An extremely engaging action-puzzler, rich with gorgeous music and gut-wrenching narratives, that also aims to teach the historical significance and effects of World War I. A new brand of chocolate.

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MMOs, English, and Experiential Learning

Phys.org:

The computer games that appear to be most effective for the development of English vocabulary are those known as Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), a genre of role-playing computer games in which a large number of players interact with one another in a virtual world.

“As a player you simply have to be able to understand what’s being said, to read English and to interact yourself by both writing and speaking English,” says Liss Kerstin Sylvén, Associate Professor at the University of Gothenburg, who conducted the study together with Pia Sundqvist, Senior Lecturer in English at Karlstad University.

I’ve always considered localization to be the bottleneck in the globally connected society; though, I’ve never considered it’s use in MMOs. Maybe I just assumed that all players were connecting to local servers. Apparently not.

My little sister was adopted from China at age 9. She hadn’t had any experience with the English language at the time, nor had she acquired the ability to read or write in her native language due to the lack of adequate education in the orphanage. All of our initial communication was handled through Google Translate. However, within months of being immersed in an English speaking culture, her use and understanding of English skyrocketed at an extremely rapid pace.

On a simpler yet similar note, my own typing skills (not necessarily my grammar) greatly improved by the use of AIM, mIRC, and Battle.net outside if school. Mavis Beacon or other education based software didn’t hold a candle to what I was learning through practical, real world use.

When forced to learn a skill because the greater population or infrastructure will not conform to your own methods while their’s is efficiently serving the same function, you are forced to learn. I believe this is the trick with edTech and game-based learning. Build a “core” game with limitations and challenges where the player is forced to apply different skills or types of thought to win instead of a “game” that is purely and unabashedly focused on teaching a particular skill. Flashing lights, fun noises, and achievements can only go so far. It needs to be an engaging (and possibly addictive) game to teach. Experiential learning is key.

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League of Lessons: Why Gaming Matters

Great read on connecting from Wiseman.
Rosalind Wiseman, Anti-Defamation League:

Young people who game know our bias and the ignorance this bias comes from. It’s this reactivity about games that can make it much more difficult for us to develop strong relationships with young people. It’s also undeniable that gaming is an essential part of many students’ lives. We have an obligation to know about this incredibly diverse world so we can effectively help children and teens navigate it with informed, constructive guidance.

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More on Minecraft

John Gruber, Daring Fireball:

It’s almost impossible to overstate just how big a deal Minecraft is for my son and his friends.

The popularity and power of Minecraft continues to amaze me. Players tend to remain glued to the game/simulation for hours on end, not just playing but creating, experimenting, collaborating, sharing and learning.

Here’s a relink to Polygon’s piece on how the United Nations is utilizing Minecraft.

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War Ensemble

This is enough to sell me on Rocksmith 2014.

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Sokobond: Chemistry-themed 2D indie puzzle game

This game looks fun, gorgeous and powerful. Coming to Steam on July 21st. Eventually being released on iOS and Android.

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