Friday, 21 November 2008

Serious fun?

This post is a sideways look at the increasing importance of the gaming genre that's being exploited for educational use. The Bized website has some excellent simulations. And there is a new Serious Virtual Worlds report [which] focuses on virtual worlds for educational uses, and explores the ‘serious’ – as opposed to leisure-based – uses of virtual worlds.

The embedded video above is from the Coventry based serious games institute, who research this topic. They have a base in second life, which brings me neatly to my next point. Last weekend the newspapers were awash with the usual poorly researched sensationist stories about the first second life divorce. I happened to catch a Daily mail article - the so called voice of middle England! Their strap line was "Fantasy world awash with sex & porn"...Well if you hadn't noticed, so is most of the interweb! Educators are only beginning to use Second Life effectively for teaching & learning purposes, and its still early days for most. Experiential (running a conference/pop concert/shop, learning a second language) and modelling abstract concepts (modelling very large & small experiments, etc) are being investigated. As are simulations and small group teaching ideas. There is even a SL for under 18s called teengrid, supported by SCHOME. Mind you Google are shutting down their virtual world at the end of this year! But they have developed a 3D ancient Rome layer in google earth?

Mind you they said that VLEs would revolutionise teaching!!

Back to the plot. Last weeks SL divorce stories followed hot on the heals of the release of a new World of Warcraft update, which is played by millions of people online. This is a real escapist world for many. PLayers were lambasted on TV for racking up stupid amounts of hours on line. But some are seeing the potential of such games ; West Nottinghamshire College, which developed the ‘Neverwinter Nights’ Key Skills assessment tool. This is an initiative designed to encourage learners to complete work by stimulating their desire to achieve. In 2004/5 the Neverwinter project won the Association of Colleges Becta Beacon Award for The Effective Use of Information Learning Technology to Enhance Teaching and Support Learning. Last weeks lively (forgive the pun) article from the ReLIVE08 conference, draws all of these strands together much more succinctly than I can.

Bringing it a little more up to date, I have noticed a coupe of recent posts concerned with the positive aspects of online gaming and social networks, and hackers enabling guitar hero to be used by disabled gamers. This is fab stuff, and reminds me of a video I saw last week of the the iphone being used as a digital ocarina, amazin stuff. You can even turn your iphone in to a theramin of sorts.

All this points to developers making use of new interfaces to make the technology more accessible to all. If you wander around youtube you'll see that there have been some very clever Nintendo Wii hacks. Some have even managed to turn a wii remote into a digtial/interactive smartboard ! There are loads of other youtube videos and google sites dedicated to some really useful and stupid "wii hacks". I know that some local Colleges and councils are investigating Nintendo Wii's for use with disabled learners and engaging students generally. A colleague of mine has developed learning objects/manuals for the army to be used with the Nintendo DS lite. In fact you can get an adapter to add memory cards to the DS lite, which means you could turn it into an e-book reader or watch videos or listen to podcasts?

If you are interested in establishing some positive ideas about the educational benefits of serious gaming, I suggest that you read the book Everything Bad is Good for You. It's a light and informal read, but a real eye opener. Talking of eyeopeners and assistive types of interface design - I bet you never though the amazin' drag and drop interface featured in the minority report film was just science fiction? well, it's not.

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