Monday, 7 September 2009

JURE and EARLI 2009

I was going to write a single blog post titled "Conference season" since that is what the last two weeks have felt like, but I think it might get a stupidly long so I've decided to do two separate ones. I know I've been slack with the posting, especially about the games I've been playing, but now that I'm actually going to be in one place for more than a few days at a time I should be getting back into more regular posts.

So, first off, was EARLI (European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction) in Amsterdam where I presented a roundtable discussion at the JURE (Junior researchers of EARLI) preconference. I'm glad the other presenter at the session was doing games related research (Jantina Huizenga who is working on the Game Atelier project) and though it may not have been the main area of everyone who attended, it was useful to get some different perspectives on my work. I also somehow managed to win an award for "Best roundtable" (thanks to the Groningen votes!) so that was pretty cool :) The main things the discussion got me thinking about was in terms of how to keep interactions as natural as possible during observation sessions and also about whether there is any way I can somehow analyse the complexity of the games being played in order to distinguish between them? I think I have this theory that games like Mario Kart or Wii Fit are somehow simpler than something like Fable II or Spore but I don't really have any real way of distinguishing between them... as yet.

Now EARLI is a massive conference and there were loads of talks to do with areas of education I really don't know much about (e.g. reading and writing). There was some games related stuff, and a lot of talk about motivation, but pretty much all of it was to do with formal education. Though there was a poster by Bjorn Sjoblom on co-located gaming about studying the discourses of players playing a MMOG within an Internet cafe. I liked the fact he was focusing on the co-located aspects of play and that he was using an observational approach.

There wasn't a whole lot of talk about informal learning either and when there was, it seemed to be more about trying to bridge the informal learning experiences at museum or science centres with what goes on at schools. At JURE though, I did come across a poster presented by Marjolein van Herten about informal learning within book discussion groups and had a bit of chat with the author about how difficult it actually is to identify informal learning... I also went to a JURE talk on the computer-based educational games by Claudia Schrader who compared a high-immersive game and a low-immersive application (control) to find that the control group did a lot better on subsequent cognitive tests. Without seeing the game and application used, it's difficult to make any judgements here, but I have a suspicion that learning gains from games take longer to show up (or at least require more than a single session) and may also be retained for longer (which would need a delayed post-test). It's also possible that we are back to considering whether there is a divide between being motivated to play the game, and being motivated to learn the content.

Which brings me on to Shaaron Ainsworth's talk on intrinsic integration within serious games. She presented some work carried out by one of previous PhD students Jake Habgood about how to integrate learning material within the game being designed. The approach adopted was an experimental one where manipulations of the same game (Zombie Division see below) indicated that it is not the notion of intrinsic fantasy that is important but how you integrate the learning within the game's core mechanics. I take this to mean that there shouldn't really be a divide between learning how to play and learning what you want players to learn.

Though I know Shaaron from when I was an undergraduate at Nottingham and it's work I've come across before, it was good to be reminded of it and it made me think about what it I want to get out of my own research. I've chosen not to focus on educational games, but on commercial ones, because I don't think we have a good enough understanding of why people play them, and how this links to the amount of effort they are willing to put in to learn (and master) the game. The discussant at the session also raised some interesting point about how it's time to think about specifying what kinds of gameplay work with what kinds of learning, which seems pretty close to what I want to do. What I really want is to come up with a way to compare and contrast different games in terms of motivation, engagement and informal learning. This will hopefully have implications for how to use and design games within education, or even just mean we are able to assess the informal learning potential of different games.

Even attending talks that weren't directly related to my research area got me thinking about different things. For one, expectancy-value models of motivation kept coming up at different presentations, so I need to look more into that. Errors were also mentioned as a potential source of learning which I think could be relevant to learning during game-play. There was also some discussion of deep and surface approaches to learning, which made we whether you could classify learning within games in the same way - maybe players engaged in shallow learning with Mario Kart and deep learning with Spore? How could I assess this?

One presentation I did find particularly useful (especially because we got to talk about it afterwards) was by Ulises Xolocotzin-Eligio, a PhD student at the LSRI in Nottingham, who is examining the role of perceived emotions within computer supported collaborative learning. He has also used games (e.g. Astroversity) to explore these concepts during co-located play and has kindly forwarded me some of his work to look at in more detail. Looking over my notes for the session, I have written down "think I need to observe people more than once..." as the talk made me realise I probably do want to do more than a one-shot observation session in order to see how the processes of learning and engagement change over time.

Hmm, can see how things are starting to get more complicated in terms of what I want to do, while I haven't even begun to reflect on the HCI conference... But right now I think I need to go away and write up some sort of reading list based on the conference, before I forget it all!

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