Category Archives: Teaching

ARVEL SuperNews

A mixture of magazine, journal and blog, with a blend of irreverant, useful, bizarre and thought-provoking pieces, ARVEL SuperNews has arrived. Includes lists of upcoming games and virtual world conferences, lists of some current projects, book and film reviews and contributed articles by Jon Richter and Jeremy Kemp and others. By far the weirdest bit was the Dear Chris page… did Chris Dede really write that? Mind blowing. Worth a read for anyone interested in Game Based Learning and Virtual Worlds – you are sure to find something of value inside.

Get your SuperNews here:

MIT follows Stanford: Certificates for external students

Now MIT will follow Stanford in offering certificates to external students who complete online courses based around free materials. Like Stanford the exact financial details are yet to be revealed – but students wanting certificates will be paying. More at the Chronicle, here. Off hand, this seems different to the AI-Class model which implies (but may change) that the class will be offered to institutions who then enroll their students and allow the credits to be used towards local degree awards.

Meanwhile, a quieter way that Stanford appear to be commercializing their free offering… by inviting top performers to submit CVs, which Stanford then forward to companies looking for talented employees. Recruitment agencies generally make their money when they provide CVs of people who end up being hired – and here Stanford might make a small, but no doubt useful, pot of cash based on their free offering.

I think few UK universities seem to be institutionally aware of what is going on here – most are still focussing primarily on the campus based student (where the campus may not actually be in the UK…) and trying to get the maximum in fees for students attending courses. Meanwhile the US based private universities are looking at the margins available on extending offerings to massive numbers home based students at low individual costs, exploiting systems that remove much of the costs associated with teaching and supporting those students. Automate the testing and evaluation and support self-organising study groups, removing the burden on the tutor altogether.

I think universities are going to have to face this head on, acknowledge what is going on and work out exactly what their strategy is to survive the next few decades: When education is free, and certification costs are marginal, what are people getting for their money when they attend university? But I don’t currently see this happening – at least not in the UK, where everyone is too distracted over current issues surrounding fees.

But perhaps the most interesting point about the MIT offering is at the very end of the Chronicle’s article:

The core idea of OpenCourseWare—free online content—spread far beyond MIT. The institute hopes this project will also catch on elsewhere. To help make that happen, it will release the MITx open-learning software at no charge, so other educational institutions can adopt it.

Depending on what the software does, and how adaptable it is, other universities will be able to follow suit – but few have the MIT brand to attract students.

Using Web 2.0 Tools to Develop and Support a Multi-Campus Class

I was at the JISC RSC Scotland SW Future Focus event on Friday. There were some great sessions during the day – Jane Hart gave the opening keynote, with a very motivational (and fun) afternoon keynote from Gavin Oates of Tree of Knowledge. In between I attended a couple of sessions related to games and 3D technologies in education: Dr Vassilis Charissis 3D training applications for surgeons and medics, and Keith Quinn’s demonstration of the use of the PSP Second Sight application to develop augmented distance learning training packs for Glasgow City Council. More details on these and other talks in the full programme.

The event closed off with an awards ceremony awarding prizes to some of the institutions and individuals who submitted case studies to “Best of the West” – a collection of examples of effective and innovative practice, to help share knowledge and expertise across the region.  There are about 50 of these, and they are well worth a browse – covering a wide range of tools and technologies across a range of disciplines in FE and HE. My own case study – Using Web 2.0 Tools to Develop and Support a Multi-Campus Class – has a bit of everything bar the kitchen sink, as I used a bunch of different resources and technologies to allow me to develop new materials for a multi-campus class with limited time. The class finished after writing up the case study, and I’m pleased that it received some of the most favourable feedback I’ve ever had from students. Re-writing the module as it was being taught was undeniably hard work – but the technologies and resources used both made it easier and made it better than it would have been otherwise.

On Friday I was extremely surprised to find out that my case study was one of six shortlisted in the Teaching and Learning category of the awards – and somewhat taken aback when I was awarded a Highly Commended prize. As you can see by the breadth of my smile here.


A Virtual Worlds Miscellany

Clearing out my unread mail and inbox, found lots of posts saved for later. Below a selection of tit-bits and links relating to education in virtual worlds.

MOSES is the US military OpenSim virtual world. Apparently this was started after Linden Lab removed support for the Second Life Enterprise software for behind the firewall solutions. There seems to be a sizeable grid there already.

Aurora Sim is a recent fork of OpenSim, from the people behind the Imprudence line of Second Life/Open Sim viewers. Aurora claims better LSL support and better physics than regular OpenSim, amongst a wide range of other modifications large and small. More details here. Add-ons such as the Web-UI front-end are also available.

Going back a fair while (showing just how much my inbox was in need of a good clear out!), I found a link to a paper on Experiential Learning in Multi-User Virtual Environments by Baba Weusijana and colleagues, published in the now-defunct Innovate Online:

Multiuser virtual environments (MUVEs) like Second Life present unparalleled opportunities to help students connect knowledge by description to knowledge by experience; in a MUVE, students can experience phenomena rather than only reading about them. Baba Kofi Weusijana, Vanessa Svihla, Drue Gawel, and John Bransford describe their use of a maze constructed in Second Life to help students experience firsthand the phenomena described in their educational psychology course. Their use of Second Life is particularly notable in its use of MUVE-based movies and other strategies to leverage Second
Life’s interactive powers for exploration despite restricted access to technology. The examples they present can hopefully lead to new designs and uses of virtual environments that allow students to experience relevant phenomena and enable researchers to conduct additional experiments of virtual, experience-rich additions to traditional ways to teach and learn.

Stephanie Cobb and colleagues report on “The Learning Gains and Student Perceptions of a Second Life Virtual Lab” in Bioscience Education, published by the Higher Education Academy (UK):

The SL practical was well received by students, with 92% of participants reporting that they would like to use the system again and many requesting other experiments to be made available in this manner in the future.

More miscellany to follow, as I continue the great email clear-out (down from 800+ un-read emails in my inbox, plus hundreds of read mail, to under 100 emails in my inbox, total. Of course, this is just one of my email accounts I’m dealing with…)

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

Reward Systems that Drive Engagement

Over the summer I’ve been ‘running’ UNversity – an online choose-your-own-project summer un-school for UWS game technology and game development students. A key feature of this was that it had to require minimal investment of time from myself (other stuff to do!), but I wanted to try to engage students, and encourage regular participation. Using a custom Moodle site, with some minor hacks, we have a points system and a leader board. We also have a basic badge system  – though I haven’t been able to spend the time to award badges, and they aren’t automatically awarded – so students have to self track their badges until UNversity wraps up and I’ll give out certificates and prizes.

The system has kind of worked – it has engaged some folk, and once folk have got into it, they have indeed kept up regular participation. But a number of students started, and quickly stopped – while others never really got started.

I’ve just watched a video of a presentation on by Amy Jo Kim from GDC 2010 that might have helped me better design my points and badge system – MetaGame Design: Reward Systems that Drive Engagement. This has given me food for thought, and I can see a couple of ways I went wrong – particularly on the need to provide more ‘early’ rewards for people getting started, and making those more visible. (A way to automatically tweet or send a Facebook message  from Moodle would be nice to make this easier!)

Overall, I think I’d have been limited by what I had time to implement though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much about it… but perhaps there is a good student project in this – building the system I need to do this better next year.

More for Less: The Challenges of Games Education

I’ve finally uploaded the screencast of my keynote from Games:EDU, back in May. Actually, the majority of this relates to any undergraduate teaching in a typical university. Inappropriate strategic goals, growing mountains of paperwork, innovation prevention, the bare pass student and traditional lectures all pop up as challenges – encouraging students to form effective communities of practice and exploiting technology to extend the reach of the university pop up as part of the solution.

See it here, or on

Virtual World Watch – Responses wanted for Snapshot #9

From John Kirriemuir:

Hi folks,

Virtual World Watch is now collecting information for snapshot #9 of virtual world use in UK Higher and Further Education. Go to to see the previous 8 snapshots from the last three years.

Do you work in the sector? Use virtual worlds? Have used them? Then it would be appreciated if you’d have a go at answering one or more of the following questions. It’s up to you what you answer, and how formally or informally you answer. Or just ignore the questions if they aren’t helpful and write your own thing. We’re flexible :-)

This is an opportunity to tell the world, and the academic virtual world community, what you are doing, have done, will do, and/or how it went. As happens regularly, people with a similar interest may then discover what you’re doing, so you may pick up a few useful contacts through your contribution.

Some points:

- The answers are stuck into a report which will go live on Monday, July 12th.
- Data collection is for all of June i.e. June 1st to June 30th only.
- Sorry, but no extensions after June 30th as VWW is keen to get the report out much closer to data collection than previously. Contributions that miss the deadline can, if you wish, go up as blog entries on this website instead.
- Unless you request anonymity, your name and job title (please supply preferred) will be included as a reference.
- Submissions can come from academics and students in UK HE or FE, as well as developers who develop directly for UK academia.
- Yes, you can be negative (honesty and frankness much better than spin) – but nothing personal and no swearing.
- Examples are awesome.

Send your submissions to – thanks.

Oh – and, as per the previous snapshot, 5 respondents who get their answers in by June 30th will be drawn out of a pickle jar and win £10 each (n.b. there’s a few winners of £10 from snapshot #8 who still haven’t claimed their loot).

+ + + + + The Questions + + + + +

Please do some or all of these – or ignore the lot and write something relevant instead.

1. What are you doing in virtual worlds? Teaching, learning, research, publicity, and/or anything else?

2. Going well? Not? Want to say why?

3. Money is tight. The ‘golden age’ of education money may be ending. How are you getting funded? How do you think your virtual world activities will be funded in the future?

4. Long distance travel is increasingly precarious. Ash, strikes and airlines going under ground flights. Travel is expensive (even in the UK with extortionate train fares) and takes up a lot of time. Virtual Worlds could, possibly, be used instead of many workshops, conferences, meetings et al. Your thoughts on this? And how do virtual worlds such as Second Life stack up against other event-replacing media such as Elluminate and Skype?

5. Second Life. Using just that, or considering other virtual worlds? If so, why?

6. Problems with universities blocking access to Second Life. Is anyone still having that, or are we over it now?

7. Handling large numbers of students in virtual worlds simultaneously i.e. more than 30. Do you have experience of this? How did it go?

8. What do you think of the new Second Life viewer, both the UI/usability changes and the new functionality it enables (e.g. media on a prim)?

9. Do you have a view on the new Second Life Terms of Service conditions and ownership rights which are creating a bit of a hoo-hah in some quarters? Do you think it will affect you? Does it matter in the grand scheme of things?

Academies and Free Schools

Every so often something happens which makes me extra glad that I live in Scotland. Currently its the ConDem government rushing ahead with their plans to take schools out of local authority control (and into the control of anybody else who wants to run them, including for-profit companies).

First up, Becta was summarily dismissed. This has had a mixed reception amongst teachers – with reports of the agency wasting some of its money, or some of its services not being used by all schools. A good collation of responses here, courtesy of OLDaily. (The British Journal of Education Technology is owned by Becta currently – I presume and hope that arrangements will be made to transfer ownership before Becta closes for good)

Whereas in Scotland, LTS is not being closed. I doubt very much that every spending decision made by LTS is the best decision possible – but there is a lot of good work coming out of LTS, and some very dedicated people who work hard on making schools better, supporting teachers and supporting a forward looking curriculum.

Michael Gove outlined plans to encourage the best schools in England and Wales to leave local authority control (as a first step to taking all schools outside of local authority control), and to make it easier for parents and companies to start new schools. The BBC’s initial coverage of both didn’t delve too deep into the possible problems – with naysayers given relatively small soundbits on pieces about new academies and free schools. Schools (such as the new academies) which have been rated as ‘outstanding’ will also be free from future inspections. Even though there is now an example of an outstanding school turned academy failing a subsequent inspection.

Mike Baker finally provided some analysis on Saturday, which includes some worthwhile observations.

On local authority control over schools:

Perhaps the most misleading, and frequently repeated, claim is that becoming an academy allows schools to “escape local authority control”.

This is ridiculous because local councils no longer have “control” of schools.

… Town halls no longer determine how schools spend their money, what or how they teach, or how they are held accountable.

Schools are constrained in many ways. But these constraints come from national government or national bodies, be it the national curriculum, national tests, Ofsted, or government legislation on issues such as safeguarding or Every Child Matters.

What do local authorities do?

Their last remaining influence is in the provision of school places, organisation of the school admissions process, and as the stretcher-bearers when schools fail. …

They provide vital services such as educational psychologists and special educational need support and more humdrum, but essential, functions such as payroll management and legal advice.

And with local authorities having little actual control over schools, there is really one reason driving the academy agenda – money:

… academy status brings a cash uplift of 10% or more.

This is the money otherwise held back by town halls for central education services. For a large secondary school that could be £400,000 a year.

Many heads believe they can make better use of that money themselves, even though they may continue to purchase some services from the local authority.

This hints at one way in which academies will be able to save money. Limiting their use of central psychological services and special needs support. Cutting back on support for the most expensive pupils – i.e. those with the greatest need – will free up more money for prestige facilities (to attract better students) and better pay (to take the best teachers away from other schools). And even to allow companies running schools to profit from the public purse and parent contributions.

As Mike Baker’s analysis points out, there will be little in terms of academic freedom or control over allocated budget to distinguish a local authority school and a new academy or free school. All that is left is whether or not the school contributes to a local fund for specialist services to support the most needy (academies won’t), whether the people running the school can make a profit (yes for academies), and whether voters actually have any power to effect change in their local schools (academies “unlike local councils … cannot be turfed out by parents and local voters.”).

As I say, every so often something happens that makes me glad that I live in Scotland.


The Guardian asks head teachers if they will opt for academy status. Not all are in a hurry – those that are tempted are tempted by the extra money.

The Independent reviews the free schools policy:

“The Tories have misrepresented the case for free schools by only quoting the good part of some very mixed evidence from the US and Sweden,” says McNally. “There are serious issues here. It might raise standards but I’m concerned about social mobility. Will the pupil premium for disadvantaged children be big enough to attract people to run schools in poor areas? If not, non-free schools will have to pick up all the social problems and will struggle to get teachers because they won’t be able to pay as much as other schools.”

Games:Edu 2010 roundup

I haven’t managed to make it to a Games:Edu event till now (the events previously had a tendency to clash with my vacations, and I sometimes get tired of travelling during the course of the year). I greatly enjoyed today’s (well yesterdays – posting this just after midnight) event however – and was happy to see that there was actually a lot of agreement between industry representatives and academics during the course of the day. In particular, a number of speakers (myself included) emphasised the need for group projects that help develop team work skills, and open-ended projects which give room for the best students to excel. How we do this while also supporting students who are not excelling was one issue that was discussed – without a definitive answer.

I’ll post my own presentation soon – my keynote was on the challenges facing games education in universities in the UK – most of which are actually challenges facing the whole sector in the UK. I even got to include my “University of Somewhere” org chart – featuring the Dept. of Innovation Prevention. This particular slide had a very good response, and discussion during tea breaks confirmed previous reports that such a department seems to exist in most universities.

University Org Chart: Dept of Innovation Prevention
The programme was nicely balanced, with some discussion on teaching game development in schools and FE (courtesy of David Brockbank), alongside a number of university and industry speakers.

A late addition to the programme, Mike Reddy discussed paizogogy – the pedagogy of making games. This builds on Papert’s constructionism, and in an engaging talk (sat next to Mike, I was impressed as he developed his game-art homage graphics immediately prior to his presentation) Mike challenged us to spend more time creating games ourselves – using cards, paper, boards or possibly even computers. Can’t say I’m not tempted.

Saint John-Walker from Skillset encouraged universities to apply for accreditation – and to initiate discussion with Skillset if they are interested. Don’t let fear of failure hold you back was his message. This talk was nicely balanced by a presentation from Michael Powell (De Montfort University) who gave an engaging talk on the challenges of applying for (and obtaining) Skillset accreditation. This brought back some memories and really emphasised one of the challenges I identified – the paper mountain facing lecturers and course leaders.

Carol Clark outlined the RealTimeWorlds approach to mentoring new graduate employees. The emphasis here was on learning by doing and becoming a member of the team. This idea of teaching game developers by placing them into effective communities of practice (to put an academic spin on it) seemed to be one of the main themes of the day – as these ideas recurred in several talks. Including Grant Clarke’s. Grant leads the Abertay Master of Professional Practice course – in which students work as members of their own game development teams in a studio setting.

Finally, Maria Stukoff of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe outlined the current PlayStation Edu schemes and opportunities – most exciting of which is that universities can now apply for the same PS3 DevKits as used in industry – no longer any need to rely on PS3 Linux (with its many limitations) for courses wanting to explore developing for the Cell processor and PS3 hardware. Included in this is the cross-platform Phyre engine and access to the PS Dev network. The costs are such that I wouldn’t expect many places to establish a full lab of 20 PS3 DevKits, but with shared access it should be possible to integrate into console development modules with just a few machines. Fingers crossed we can free up some money from our budgets to get a few of these soon…