Category Archives: Learning

A glut of books

As blogged, tweeted and posted elsewhere, the US National Academies Press, which publishes a wide range of books on science, engineering and medicine developed by leading academics has made its entire catalogue of 4000 odd books available in pdf format for free.

Stephen Downes’ first pick is Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulation, while The Rise of Games and High Performance Computing for Modeling and Simulation looks more at the capabilities of games for scientific applications.

My own recommendation would be the expanded edition of How People Learn – which summarizes a wide variety research findings from across the learning sciences is a very straightforward way.

I’m looking forward to digging into this amazing resource, but perhaps I need to start with something that will help me deal with the sheer volume of knowledge now freely available? Something like Glut: Mastering Information Through The Ages perhaps? Although sadly this one doesn’t yet appear to be available for download.

Power of Distraction

A recent piece (US Unplugged) in the Times Higher collects quotes and stories from a number of institutions and individual tutors now discouraging the use of laptops in lectures and social networking on campus.

Some good quotes from Clifford Nass:

“It seemed as though they could actually do two things at once. What do these kids know that I don’t? It drove me crazy. That’s what inspired my research.”

But he found that “they’re not amazing. They can’t really do it.” His research shows that the students’ memories were disorganised; they fixated on irrelevant data, could not follow specific directions that required paying attention and wrote poorly.

… “We’ve reached a period where attention is no longer valued. There’s been a cultural change where we’ve forgotten about the idea of paying attention,” he says. “And people have started to resent that.”

I haven’t banned laptops from my own lectures – indeed, only small numbers of students bring laptops to lectures at UWS, so it hasn’t really been a major issue. In some classes I’ve given out laptops – but that has been to allow students to do practical work at set points in a class (its hard to teach programming in a lecture). I have this year used mobile phone based response/poll systems in class and that did work well – using the technology to concentrate attention on the task, without allowing it to become a distraction seems to be key.

Sherry Turkle makes a very worthwhile point:

But what professors are learning to say is: ‘You know what? In this class we’re here to be with each other. We’re here to be a community. Let’s make the most of it.’

There are of course two sides to this – lecturers need to do their part to engage students and to try to promote learning – and students need to learn how best to help themselves and understand the negative impacts of partial attention.

(See some of the other posts here on multi-tasking for links to other studies)

Computer Games and Instruction

Nothing for ages, then it all happens at once…

My short piece for EDUCAUSE Review “Second Life is Dead. Long Live Second Life?” is now online. I’ve had a few emails from different folk, generally in agreement. No hate mail yet :-)

In the same week, I learned that Computer Games and Instruction, edited by Sigmund Tobias and JD Fletcher, is now available. I co-wrote a chapter in this book with Jon Richter on Multi-User Games and Learning – trying to encapsulate this broad, broad area in a single chapter, quite a challenge. The book also contains chapters by James Paul Gee, Chris Dede and Kurt Squire amongst others – so we are in very good company. I’m looking forward to receiving my own copy, but for now I have to settle for scanning the pages available via the Google-books preview (available from the book page, here)

Table of contents below.

Continue reading

A virtuous circle?

Like me, you’ve probably got used to calls for educators to think more like game designers, to consider how good games help players learn how to play, from James Gee and many others over the past few years.

In this months Edge (UK gaming magazine, Issue 216, July 2010), video-game design consultant N’gai Croal resets a cosmic balance when he suggests that game designers think like teachers…

the primary goal of the developer should be not to punish the player … the developer should be invested not in the player’s failure but in the player’s success


developers could probably learn a lot from talking to teachers

Bringing Gee and N’Gai together then tells us that educators can learn from how the best games teach their players – and game designers can learn from how the best teachers teach their students. The circle is complete!

On The Horizon – Free access week!

On the Horizon is the strategic planning resource for education professionals in the international post secondary and life-long learning arena. An environmental scanning journal, On the Horizon covers corporate universities, e-learning, private for-profit degree granting institutions as well as the traditional university. Areas include the business of education delivery, content and certification, as well as rules and regulations in areas such as institutions and intellectual property.

And for this week, as the featured journal of Emerald Press, online access to the journal is free – including full text of all articles. See the list of issues here [EDIT: Link broken as of 10am 29th April – hopefully a temp problem at Emerald – the journal page is here, but no access to contents until link fixed]. The 2009 issues are well worth a view – including special issues on virtual worlds, gaming and simulation, distributed learning environments and (an intriguing title!) Future consciousness in learning.

Remember – this is for one week only!

BBC study on Brain Training

The BBC will tomorrow broadcast a programme on a study they funded on ‘Brain Training’ type programs – and which has had its results published in Nature. The study found that:

While players got progressively better at the games, the gains were not transferable, Nature journal reports.

Players gained nothing in terms of general reasoning, memory, planning or visuospatial abilities, experts found.

But they say more work is needed to see if workouts for the mind can help keep the brain “fit” as it ages.

More on the program here.

Note that this is distinct and quite different from the Brain Training study that LTS ran in Scottish schools – which did find that math Brain Training games did help students learn math (published in BJET). There will be a number of reasons for the difference – the LTS study was using games which asked students to do exercises similar to normal arithmetic exercises – and math was still being taught in class. Perhaps successful transfer of learning is boosted when learning in a game is reinforced with learning in a second setting?

(Offhand, a lot of work on transfer of learning has shown that being able to apply problem solving skills in multiple domains requires learning in multiple domains – which is why some children can solve problems in math class but not solve similar problems in different settings, or vice versa).

Free webinars on learning games

This Saturday, April 24th, The Future of Education has two free online webinars on learning games:

From Steve Hargadon / The Future of Education

SLOODLE Moot 2010


SLOODLE Moot 2010 is approaching!

This weekend SLOODLE Moot – a free, online conference will be taking place in Second Life. A range of presentations, discussions and demonstrations will take place over the weekend including:

  • Devil Island Mystery. Learn how freshman students in S. Korea were stranded on a virtual island – and had to develop their English skills to survive – and solve the Devil Island Mystery!
  • Hacking SLOODLE tools. SLOODLE is open-source – in this sessions learn why you might want to change SLOODLE to suit your own ends – and how you can do so.
  • SLOODLE at the Open University. With around 250,000 online students, and individual courses with student numbers in the thousands, the OU faces some significant challenges in using virtual worlds to support its courses. Learn how the OU has been using SLOODLE to meet this challenge.
  • Cypris Chat demonstration. After a very successful set of demonstrations earlier this year, Mike McKay gives another demo of SLOODLE and the Awards system.
  • Saturday night social. Lights, music, dancing!

Get more details at the SLOODLE home page –

( hashtag: #smoot )

Researching Learning in Virtual Environments – ReLIVE book now out

Caught a little off guard with this, but the ReLIVE book (which I had a hand in helping edit) is now available online at SpringerLink here. The promo blurb:

Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds covers a range of research undertaken in 3D virtual environments, looking at both the methods and results of the studies.

This groundbreaking book is the first to specifically address research methods and related issues for education in virtual worlds. It opens with an accessible introduction to the book and to the subject, providing an ideal springboard for those who are new to research in this area. The subsequent ten chapters present work covering a range of research methodologies across a broad discipline base, making it essential reading for advanced undergraduate or postgraduate researchers working in education in virtual worlds, and engaging background material for researchers in similar and related disciplines.

Many of the chapters in this book are extended papers from Researching Learning in Virtual Environments (ReLIVE08), an international conference hosted by the Open University UK. Authors of the best papers and presentations from the conference were invited to contribute to Researching Learning in Virtual Worlds.

The book is actually a little cheaper at – but no information yet on when the hardcopy will be available. But due before the end of the month. I enjoyed working on parts of this book – many thanksare  due to Anna Peachey who had the lions share of the work and did a sterling job, and to co-editors Julia Gillen and Sarah ‘Intellagirl’ Smith-Robbins.