Friday, 27 November 2009

Trine, Borderlands and Assasin's Creed II (PS3)

First off, I need to say thanks to my mate Paul for sharing his PS3 with me over the last couple of weeks - I promise I will get one myself but it's going to have to wait till after Christmas...

So first, we played Trine (from Finnish developers Frozenbyte and you can also get it on PC) And it was good. A physics based action/platformer/puzzle game? That you can play with up to two other players?! Awesome!!! It looked pretty too (see video above). I have to admit not really caring about the storyline so much, but I did love the gameplay. Especially when we had to stop and think about what we needed to do next. I seemed to gravitate towards the thief most - I liked the fact she used arrows (so I didn't have to get too close to enemies) and I guess I just like jumping! I kind of left the wizardy stuff to the more experienced player as he seemed to have a good handle on when to do what but we would sometimes switch depending on what was going on. All in all, Trine did a brilliant jump of encouraging enjoyable coop play and I think it gave plenty of examples of problem solving and collaboration in action. My only issues with it were the occasional glitches that occurred when one of the characters goes off screen (similar to LBP) and the end. The last level really wasn't very difficult (in comparison to earlier ones!) and the n the game just ended - not really satisfying at all, but please don't let that put you off trying a pretty innovative game.

Then, there was Borderlands (see pic above). It's a first-person shooter (FPS) with role-playing game elements (RPG) set in a post-apocalyptic world full of bandits, guns, leftover cash in boxes and scary looking dog like creatures called skags. Paul likes it a lot but I'm not sure it's really my thing... This game made me realise I have a tendency to panic when something unexpected happens that threatens my character. It happened in Trine too - I ran away from a big scary skeleton when it first appeared, even though I was the warrior with the big sword! But when I panic in an FPS this means I lose all sense of spatial awareness (which isn't great to begin with) and start shooting all over the place. And then I die. So that's not much fun. Plus, I don't really care about guns and I don't like the feeling that I'm not very good at something. I also think my lack of progress levelling up and getting enough money to buy better (i.e. more powerful) weapons also added to my disatisfaction with the game. And god that robot guide at the start is annoying! My feelings are a little mixed on the game as a whole though because I did enjoy some of it. Like when I could see I was getting a little better - my aim did improve while I have to admit there was something really satisfying about nailing those head shots and also when I did eventually level up. I could even see myself picking up simple strategies like remembering to crouch down behind something when reloading and running backwards while shooting. Plus, playing with a more experienced FPS player made it a lot easier because it meant I also had someone to tell me what to do. Then there was the really hilarious moment when we heard growling, got scared and both ended up hiding in the same shed waiting for the skag to come to us! Though you may have had to have been there for that one... So yeah, mixed feelings about Borderlands.

Finally there is Assassin's Creed II from Ubisoft. I really liked this - a lot more than Borderlands. Probably because the third person action-adventure genre is one I'm more comfortable with and maybe because I get to a lot more jumping in the form of free running around beautiful recreations of 15th Italy. While the avatar facial expressions are a little disconcerting (e.g. a lot of them seem kinda cross-eyed), the rest of the game is seriously stunning (see pic above). I found the storyline intriguing too, especially at the start where I ended up getting quite into the whole revenge plot. Though I have to say this doesn't seem to have sustained itself, as now I feel more impatient to just get on with the missions. And sometimes it wasn't clear how to get from a to b (or maybe we just haven't figured out the maps properly yet?). I did like the fighting here more too, though I have a feeling I prefer punching (i.e. hitting buttons repeatedly) and assassinating (killing someone without getting in a fight) than sword fighting (which seems to involve a mixture of timing and skill that I'm still getting the hang of). I have also learnt how to spell assassin properly ;) All in all though, it is a game I would actually like to spend some time playing on my own to how much I get into it, even though it was still fun to take turns at it.

So, that's a few more games than usual, and a lot more killing than I have done in a while! I don't think I've ever had much of a problem with violence in games - I know it's not real and of course I know it's not an appropriate to behave outside of the game - but I guess it is strange to realise I actually enjoy a lot of it. At least, when I do it well... So maybe, as Przylbylski et al. suggest (see here for a good summary), it's more about competence than violence? I think lack of competence may be why I don't like FPS games that much - I feel I have too much to get a handle on in terms of learning the controls, orienting myself spatially, comparing weapons I really don't know much about etc. Maybe I'd enjoy them more if I spend a little time practising but when there are so many other games I enjoy playing (and get to grips with quicker),I think something else will probably get priority. Until the next time a friend wants me to play an FPS anyway. I also liked the way that these recent experiences have all been quite social. When it wasn't a coop game, we took turns, and when we played Trine there were other mates around who were happy to watch us. Sharing does seem to make things more fun, or at least make things fun in a different way. And I think working together can also be quite satisfying though I imagine this might also depend on who you're playing with!

It's been good but I really am going to have to get my own "serious" console soon...

Przylbylski, A. K., Ryan, R. M. & Rigby, C. S. (2009). The motivating role of violence in video games. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 35, 243-259.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Machinarium (PC)

Go and play Machinarium.

It not only looks good - it's set in a sort of rusty cute looking robot world - but manages to engage without a single word of dialogue being spoken (at least not as far I've played it). It's an independent point-and-click puzzle solving adventure without the tedious dialogue. Don't get me wrong, I love the narrative and humour of the Monkey Island games and I've even been playing the new episodic ones but it's the pretty much the same formula,though it is done well. But you can also get that wrong - like with A Vampyre Story. Czech designers Amanita Design have done something different here and have managed to communicate a storyline through the use of thought bubbles and (pretty cool) drawings alone.

Not only that but they've included a really clever little mechanism for getting help within the game. I think I've mentioned this before, but I do use walkthroughs when I get stuck. There are just points where I don't have the patience to keep trying something, and if the information is out there I don't see it being massively different to asking a friend for some help. But, in order to access these walkthroughs (or tips or whatever) I have to leave the game and go online to find out what I need. And once I've caved and started looking at the walkthrough I then run the risk of ruining the gameplay by reading ahead so I don't have to come back for the next puzzle... However, in Machinarium, I have two other options. The first is to click on the light bulb on the far right to give you a hint for how to solve the puzzle. If that's not enough then you click on what looks like a locked journal of some kind. Now this will give the solution but (and here's the bit I really like) you have to play a somewhat boring mini-game to get to that solution. The reason I love this so much is because it means it stops me from ruining the game by easily accessing the walkthrough whenever I want - I have to decide whether it's worth playing the game first. So while the mini-game isn't very interesting (or very long for that matter) it makes me think twice about looking up the solution. But if I really am stuck, then I have a way to fix it without ever having to leave the game! Genius :-)

So I finally posted something about a games again (and not conference related!). I've been playing a few different things lately so I'm hoping there will be more to follow soon.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

GameCity Squared 2009

I spent the last few days in Nottingham for the GameCity festival. I started off by attending the Interactive Technologies and Games conference and then spent the next couple of days checking out the exhibits in town and going to a couple of talks - all in all, it was a good couple of days, and a nice excuse to re-visit where I spent my undergrad years :-)

So, the focus of the conference was on the use of technologies and games for education, health and disability. There was a lot stuff on how the Wiimote and nunchuck can be used to help those with physical and learning difficulties, such as Steven Battersby's talk about a series of projects exploring the different ways in which the controllers can be adapted and utilised e.g. as a WiiGlove. Other highlights include hearing about David Brown discuss European wide research on developing serious games for those with learning disabilities, where participants were also brought in to talk about their experiences with different games (participatory research - always good!) and Mark Griffiths discussing all the different ways in which games can be used as therapy. It was good to see Maria Saridaki again (who I met at ECGBL last year) and hear her discuss her work on the e-ISOTIS project - which highlighted the importance of considering both students and teachers as end users when it comes to design. I also caught up with Ulises Xolocotzin Elgio who I met at EARLI this year and thanks to Maria for getting us into the opening ceremony for GameCity festival (see the pic of us below sipping on free champagne!).

But perhaps the thing that struck me the most about the conference was the focus on using technology to support the elderly. This came in the form of developing ways in which to make the Internet easier to use (Ernestina Etchemendy talking about the Butler system), using games as a way to motivate stroke patients to carry out their exercises (James Burke) and using games as a way to keep older people's brains active (Karel Van Isacker discussing the start of the OASIS project for older people). Given the fact our population is getting older as a whole, it's no surprise that there is an interest how we can assist the elderly and make their lives richer but I guess it's not something I've thought too much about before. Plus it also got me thinking about what things are going to be like when I get to that age!

As for the festival itself, I think the highlight for me were the talks I went to. Sure it was good to see cool things going on in town - the Indiecade (including the Path - though I did end up telling some kids who were getting bored with it that they really didn't need to listen to the game instructions and should be wondering off the path into the woods, lol), the EA exhibit (though all the games seemed to be out already), and Lego Rockband does look like a laugh. Oh, and it was fun to watch loads of people playing the same game at once (see pic below).

But I also went to Lord Puttnam's opening speech - as well as having been a seriously impressive film producer, he is also Chancellor for the Open University - comparing the games and film industries. He was essentially pointing out the power that games could have and essentially pleading for games designers to start producing more mature games. The comparison between the two industries served to make the point that it takes time to understand the potential of a new medium - in the early days of cinema apparently, people would have been shocked by the idea that 90minute-2hour films would become the industry standard, for instance. Puttnam is also interested in climate change and reckons the solution to a lot of our problems is to develop a smarter, better informed society that is aware of the consequences of our actions - which is were games come in. It was quite an inspiring speech, but I think he was placing a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of games designers by essentially asking them to change the world...

David Surnam continued with the idea that games need to grow up a bit when he started the GameCityU day with a talk about what game design means. He went into a lot of different issues - the fact that there has been an explosion of game design courses, that games content should be improved, and that there is a lot of confusion about the roles and responsibilities of games designers and developers. I think he was keen to stress the creative (as well as technical side) of game design but more importantly, wanted to urge students and current designers to take ownership of the design process and their own idenity.

But perhaps the highlight for me was the GameCity U panel with Babsie Lippe (currently an artistic developer for the soon to be released indie MMO Papermint), Rex Crowle (illustrator for Media Molecule who worked on Little Big Planet) and Robin Hunicke (who has worked for EA on MySims and BoomBlox and now works for thatgamecompany) interviewed by David Surnam - see blurry pic below of the panel.

This was just a really cool opportunity to hear from some really creative people who've worked on some fantastic projects. They talked about their different gaming experiences - both as players and designers - gave advice to students in the room, and basically came across as people you'd seriously enjoy having a drink with. And two of them had PhD's, which made we wonder about where I'll end up in the next ten years! Though again, the emphasis was on creative side, so it would be quite surprising if I ever end up as a designer but what I did like how they encouraged students to immerse themselves in all sorts of things from books and music to being outside and trying something different because otherwise they will just end up making games that are self-referential and other little in terms of new experiences to the player.

There were a few other things I would have liked to have seen - like Night Blooms: Flower in the Exchange Arcade and hear Masaya Matsura's closing keynote (the designer responsible for PaRappa the Rapper and VibRibbon) but I'm not sure I could have justified spending much more time away from work (or gotten hold of tickets...). The whole thing was definitely worth going to and I'm glad I was left feeling that while the games industry seems to be at a crossroads, there seems to be a real desire from games developers to make games that matter. And I for one am looking forward to seeing where it's all going to go next.

Monday, 21 September 2009

School of gaming starts in New York

This Guardian article on a school founded on the principles of game-based learning claims this is also "proof that games are educational". I think it's going to take more than just the school opening to support this claim though.

They are starting with just the sixth grade right now but you can check out the school website to find out more.

I'm intrigued but not sure I'm a fan of the school being called "Quest to learn" - too many images of warriors, Elves and magic coming to mind...

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

HCI 2009

Ok, so the second conference post.

The 23rd BCS (British Computing Society) HCI (Human Computer Interaction) conference was held in Cambridge last week. Anthony Dunne from the Royal College of Art began the opening keynote by asking whether we wanted to "Do you want to replace the existing normal?". Usability news has a nice summary of the talk but the gist of it seemed to be about thinking about design in terms of what could be, and how we can fit into the world, rather than in terms of what is, and how we change the world to fit us. He also presented a lot of his own and students work including ideas such as teddy bear shaped blood bags, the sentinel (below) which requires you to stare into it for a very long time in order to access your data and the cloudworks student project, which explored the idea of using nanotechnology to make clouds "rain" ice cream. It was a fascinating keynote but I can see how some people came away with the idea that this was more about producing art (and getting people to think) than about producing "good" design. I think it's definitely a good thing to encourage people to think outside the box, but I'm not sure you can ignore the fact that mostly what people want (and what makes money) is products that they can easily use, that do what they are supposed to do and that look good.

This was followed by Steve Benford talking about how to design for interaction for people's trajectories through different user experiences. He used a couple of examples from Blast Theory project like Desert Rain and Uncle Roy All Around You to discuss how these "extended hybrid structures" (involving different technological interfaces and narratives within the real and virtual world) can be unified by the realisation that they are taking the user on an extended and coherent journey which will involve transitions, negotiations and interleaving the trajectories of different participants. One of the questions afterwards noted how the approach could be applied to game design where you often have a number of potential trajectories in terms of narrative and timing, but where you also might have to consider how to interleave these when there is more than one player involved.

Other highlights include William Hudson talking about Baron-Cohen's empathising-systematising scale (though I don't think he reported anything that new in his findings since essentially it seemed that those who were in more tech related jobs were found to score more highly on the systematic scale) and Simon Robinson's presentation on the use of haptic feedback while walking (which users appreciated more than visual feedback since they could walk without having to stop and look) and Jenn Sheridan's talk on taking a DIY approach to building interactive surfaces. There was also an Open House Festival showcasing all sorts of gadgets and technology that have been developed recently including the OU's work from the e-Sense project where a blindfolded player is strapped into a vibrating "corset" which lets them know which direction the ball is coming from (see below) showcased by Jon Bird and Paul Marshall from the Computing dept.

In terms of games related stuff, the only things that came up (apart from my own talk) were during the encounter sessions. In these sessions the presenters had five minutes to introduce their subject and then we went off into different 20 minute discussion groups with two of presenters. The first session I attended included Rui Pedro Goncalves Pereira's presenting his TüISt multi-instrument interface and Gijsbert dos Santos presenting some work on using augmented reality as a conceptual design tool. The discussion group I joined after the presentations consisted of Eduardo H. Calvillo Gámez - who presented a model of the gaming experience from his PhD thesis (that I need to look at further, though he has focused on single rather than mutliplayer experiences) - and Russell Beale who talked about using a grounded theory approach to analyse video game reviews (as did Eduardo) in order to categorise what makes a good game. I think the main thing to come out of this for me was the idea of using game reviews as a source of data - while there's been some talk with my supervisors about interviewing game designers, this is something I hadn't considered before.

Though not completely game related the second encounter sessions included some work carried out by Anne Adams, also from IET - who presented some work on attention and affective issues in Second Life and Runescape - and Shazia Afzal - who introduced the notion of intentional affect when dealing with considering machine that interpret the users affective state. The discussion we had was really interesting and got me thinking not only about how you define attention (and immersion!) and affect, but also about how you can try and measure them. We also got on to talking about whether you actually really want a machine to know how you are feeling all the time, when you may not even be sure yourself! Which I guess is part of the reason for thinking about intentional affect...

Then there was my own presentation: "Exploring the link between player involvement and learning within digital games" - my first proper conference paper! (where I'm first author anyway). You can find the paper itself here, and the slides here. There was a bit of a delayed start, so I think I might have rushed the beginning a little but I soon got into it. I got a bit of a tricky question about what I meant by learning which I think threw me a bit as I've gotten to the point where I don't even question that games involve learning but I guess it depends on how you define it as a concept and what you're expectations are around it. The question did make me realise I'm going to have to be very explicit about how I do define it, especially when I am presenting outside game related circles. And that I may have to consider my titles more carefully in future, as I think a lot of people thought I was going to talk about educational games. While I think I did alright at addressing her concerns, I'm going to have to get better at justifying my interest in informal learning. Having a further discussion after the talk also made me realise that I may have to talk about learning on different levels i.e. with learning how to press the buttons at the bottom, which brings me back to the point I made in the last post about finding out a way to analyse the complexity of learning (and play) that occurs within games.

And finally, the conference ended with Bill Buxton's keynote. This was seriously good, he really did keep everyone engaged and got us to think as well. Essentially, he was arguing for the importance of being aware of our own historical socio-cultural context of technology. For instance, did you know that the first smart phone to have a single button and touch screen to be introduced was the IBM Simon? In 1994. 13 years before the iPhone. And how many people working in HCI are actually aware of this?!? The point he was making wasn't about somebody else inventing it first but that innovations can usually be traced back at least 20 years - "The future is already here - it is just unevenly distributed" (Gibson) - so the next big thing is probably already around. Obviously, the Simon didn't do well, so it's not just about the technology but about how you present the whole package. But maybe by seeing the world through different eyes, knowing enough history to build upon it and adding your own twist who knows what'll happen next?

It was a good ending to a good few days and now I have a whole long list of things I need to read up on...

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!

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Women and games

I've been a bit quiet lately because it's the summer and I've not really been in one place for long but I do promise to post something about my recent gaming experiences soon. In the meantime, please watch this very cool animated short from Daniel Floyd and Leigh Alexander:

Diversity it seems, is key. Though marketing may have their own ideas...

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Critical thinking and The Sims 3

Thanks to Costas again for sending me a link to a fascinating blog that is looking at what happens when you decide to play a homeless family in The Sims 3 (see pic below of Kev and his daughter Alice, created by Robin Burkinsaw).

While it's pretty interesting in itself, it reminded me of some of Gonzalo Frasca's work which discusses Augusto Boal's Theatre of the Oppressed in relation to video game design and how this could be used to encourage critical thinking. In an article on the same topic (based on this thesis) he discusses a hypothetical, open source version of the original Sims that would allow players to have much more control over character creation (which seems to have be part of the latest one). He argues that this control would allow players to create characters with the traits they want and gives an example of someone playing this version of the game and comparing the effects of these different traits. His main argument seems to be that by reducing immersion (in this case, the term seems to refer to attention and the suspension of disbelief, as opposed to the feeling of inhabiting a virtual environment) through allowing players more control, you will encourage critical thinking and reflection. I'm not sure whether providing more control , on its own, automatically leads to a more reflective stance about the game, but Robin Burkinshaw's blog does suggest how this might manifest.

And the link made me think that I should probably get a copy of the game myself...

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

H809: a couple of links

Just a very short post to point to a couple of things that might be useful for the final assignment:

1) A research proposal outline - posted by Sonja
2) Assignment guide for H809 - James suggests reading from page 7 onwards
3) A link to some videos on educational theories - posted in the blogs
4) Oh, and please don't forget to fill in the course survey here.

Good luck with finishing your ECAs!

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

CALRG conference

Last week, CALRG (Computer and learning research group) had it's annual conference in the Jennie Lee building on campus. Unfortunately, I had to miss 30th anniversary celebrations on the Monday as I was coming back from Cyprus but Dave Perry was kind enough to photoshop me into the photo below so in a few years time, I'll probably think I was there! (It's a scanned copy of the photo so it's not too clear but I'm at the end of the top row next to Josie. If you look closely though, you might notice one or two others who have been added...).

From the sounds of it, I missed a good day. For a breakdown of the talks given, Doug Clow seems to have live blogged the entire event, separating the day into sessions 1, 2, and 3. You can also access the twitter archive and cloudspace for the event here, where each talk given has a cloud (thanks to Patrick McAndrew for putting up summaries of these). I did have a poster up based on my MRes work for last, and apparently, Tim O'Shea reckons I had the best research questions - though also the most difficult to answer... So that was pretty cool. Oh, and just for reference purposes, the questions I posed were:
  1. How can we identify the learning processes that occur during play?
  2. How can we describe the involvement that players experience during play?
  3. Is there an identifiable relationship between the learning that occurs and this experience of involvement?
I did attend the conference sessions on the 19th and 20th though, and even presented myself. I have to say, it was a very supportive environment for my first PhD related talk (I think I even enjoyed it a little!). I was basically presenting a summary of my work in progress - which was pretty much based around my probation report. I think the slides are going to go up on the knowledge network at some point but if anyone is interested, I'd be happy to pass them along. I got a fair amount of feedback in terms of suggested reading that might be useful including looking at the sociological literature for research on learning through play, looking at accessibility literature for research on what different physiological signals might represent, and some suggestions for looking at work on presence and motivation. All interesting stuff for to search for and read so I can add to what feels like a never-ending literature review!

While it was great for me to feel that my ideas and questions came across as valid and interesting, the conference was also a really good opportunity for me to see what other people in my research group are up to. Again, Patrick has done a good job of summarising the gist of the talks here, but in terms of my own response, I guess the most obvious thing for me was the emphasis was mainly on formal learning and assessment. The theme of the first day was argumentation, where the focus was essentially on exploring way to teach students how to argue effectively with the aid of various types of software e.g. Talk Factory, InterLoc, Second Life. The discussant for the day (and my old boss) Richard Joiner, summed it up quite well, when he suggested that there seems to be a fine line between learning how to argue, and using argument to learn. There was also a presentation on tools to might help annotate and map arguments online, and another on reading group discourse that looked at naturally occurring talk and how you might analyse argumentation and collaboration through corpus-based analysis. The latter talk was especially interesting for me, partly because it focused on informal learning but also because it used a case-study approach (where they attempted to study a wide a range of groups as possible) and gave me some ideas about how of the tools available to analyse the data in terms of trying to find patterns across these groups.

On day two, the themes were far more wide ranging, so I'm not going to try and review everything. It was good to find out a bit more about OpenLearn though and the English in Action project in Bangladesh. I think it's sometimes very easy to nod and smile when people are mention their research, but going to something like this makes it a lot clearer. So now I have a firmer grasp, for instance, on what my fellow PhD students Pauline and Eunice are doing! I'm not sure how relevant a lot of the talks were in terms of my own research, but going to the conference has also got me thinking about the conferences I'll be going to in August/September. I'm going to EARLI in Amsterdam (presenting a roundtable discussion at the JURE pre-conference) which is very much education focused, and then HCI in Cambridge (presenting my very first paper!) which is much more technology focused. I'm already beginning to think I have a bias towards the latter as though I'm interested in how technologies can be used for learning, I'm just not sure how inspired I am by education - as it seems to revolve around learning outcomes and assessments. Hopefully, going along to these events will give me a better feel for both these areas (whatever my preconceptions might be) and will also help me in terms of thinking about what direction I want to go in as a researcher...

Monday, 25 May 2009

H809: Block three update

First off, apologies to H809ers for my absence over the last couple of weeks. I'm afraid that submitting my probation report, going back home for a family wedding and presenting at my research group conference (CALRG; a post on the conference to follow soon) has meant that H809 has had to take a bit of a back seat.

So I haven't been doing the reading for Block 3 but for excellent summaries and commentary on the last few weeks, please have a look at Juliette Culver's blog. In week 11, she raises some wothwhile points about how candid (or not) people are when filling in surveys while also discussing the notions of validity and reliability (where she notes "reliability is about whether you can consistently achieve the same results using methods, validity is about whether your methods tell you what you claim they do"). I think she also raises some interesting issues surrounding the concept of ethnographic research in weeks 13&14, especially in relation to virtual ethnography and the divide between the virtual and the real. I think the blurring of this divide is something we are seeing more of these days, and in terms of my area of research at least, we do need to be aware that this is not necessarily a binary distinction (if you want tto read more about this see Gordon Calleja's paper called the Binary Myth, 2008). There is also research going on within online gaming communities - virtual ethnographies within virtual worlds I guess - where an ethnographic approach has been adopted. For instance, Bonnie Nardi and colleagues has done some work looking at learning conversations in World of Warcraft. Though not really related to ethnographic study, I did consider some of the ethical issues of purposefully blurring these sorts of distinctions in my entry on alternate reality games.

Jansh has also been updating her blog regularly, reflecting on the week 11 podcasts, and has produced a really interesting post on the Browne (2003) "Conversations in cyberspace" reading, where she relates it to her own experience as an AL with the OU. She also discusses her ideas for her final H809 project, looking at how the teacher's wiki she has set up is being used. Her and James have also engaged in a discussion about wiki etiquette and how to encourage collaborative learning. As the reading and activity portion of the course comes to an end and the focus turns to your own research projects, I would just like to say that this doesn't mean that you can't blog about your own ideas. I'd be happy to try and give you my own take on your proposals, though it's probably best to think of me as another student commenting, rather than as a tutor since I won't be marking any of them! So even if you haven't been blogging throughout the course, now might be a good time to get some of those ideas out there for others to see.

Unfortunately, I have to echo some of Sonja's concerns about the lack of communication within the forums on H809, since discussions seems to have become less and less frequent as time has gone on. As such, there isn't a lot to report in terms of what's been happening on the forums, though there have been some interesting discussion about the difference between reviewing vs. consuming (in relation to the notion of peer review), the issue of trust and ethics when using CMC (in relation to the Bos. et al., 2002) and - from the sounds of it - some very legitimate concerns being raised about the research carried out by Davies and Graf (2005) on student grades and participation within an e-learning community. The latter discussions will be especially relevant for those finishing off their final TMA.

Right, I think I would like to end this post by urging students to respond to each others concerns (whether within forums or through blogs) as you are all part of a diverse community that can support each other through the trials and tribulations of online learning. Contributions don't always have to be profound - sometimes it's nice just to know someone else is out there going through what you are - but without any communication the whole experience can be quite frustrating and really wouldn't be taking advantage of all the potentially useful resources that are available. So please do get involved and I promise I'll be around till the end of the course to try and provide another perspective - if you want it!

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Low budget games

This is going to be a quick post, so I can bring your attention to the Professional Gamer's (or Costas from LostInGames) post on some smaller budget games he has been playing. I can thoroughly recommend "Today I die" which is free and essentially some form of interactive poetry, while Braid has been on my list of games to play for quite a while now and I'm almost embarrassed by how long it's taking me to get round to play it.

I do want to add a game to the list though - The Path from Tale of Tales. It's a horror game inspired by Little Red Riding Hood but instead of following the path to Grandma's house as instructed, you're encouraged to wander off into the woods - where all the interesting stuff is... It only costs $9.99 and can be downloaded from here. It's already been reviewed e.g. Leigh Alexander's review on Kotaku and for a much better description of it than I could give check out Fullbirght's take on it here. I think the main reason the game appeals to me because it's making people think about what games are and what they could be. Yes it challenges our normal game play assumptions but you can also see how something it could be used to prompt discussions about all sorts of issues, such as is it warning young girls to stay away from dangerous situations? Or do we all have our own "wolfs"? And even to what extent does it echo traditional fairy tales, including of course, Little Red Riding Hood? I also like the way the designers have worked around the game so you can find out a bit more about the girls as individuals e.g. Carmen has a blog here, while the rest can be found from the Path's own blog.

That said, and as much as I appreciate the different approach to designing a game-play experience, I haven't actually finished the game yet. Ok, so yes I'm a little busy at the moment, but when I have played it, I often get a little frustrated by how long it takes me to explore the woods. There is no map I can call up to see where I've been and where I haven't, expect for this weird unreliable dotted path that occasionally flashes up on the screen but disappears before I can get my bearings. There are some cryptic clues for your location in terms of finding the "wolf" but these aren't very helpful when I only want to do that after I've explored everything else. I know the game is supposed to be accessible to non-games players but how about people with poor spatial awareness? I think I am just a little bit impatient when it comes to games, even when I know I should be appreciating the fact that I do actually feel lost in the woods when I play, and all the stunning graphics and music that make up the Path. But I have certain expectations and I guess I get frustrated when I'm not sure how to get from A to B, and at the thought that I could be missing out on something by not exploring everything. Is that enough to question The Path's status as a game? I'm going to go with Leigh Alexander and Fullbright on this one - did I play it? Yes. Then it's a game. Just maybe not the sort I'm used to....

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

H809: End of block 2

Well, everyone seems to have been busy with their second assignment so there's not been a massive amount of activity online for H809 the last couple of weeks. I did finally get around to reading the last few papers but have been pretty busy myself as I've been preparing for my upcoming probation report. And I'm probably going to be quite busy with this for a while, as it's essentially a test of whether I sound like I have a good enough grasp on what I want to do, why it's worth doing and how I'm going to do it, so I can prove I'm ready for my second year of PhD study. If it sounds straight forward, it's not as these are surprisingly difficult questions to answer but I'm sure that the whole process means I'm at least going to come up with a plan! But yes, I'm probably going to be a bit quiet over the next couple of weeks (at least until my report is due in on May 18th) though I will be keeping an eye on what's happening on the blogs at least.

Back to H809 though. In terms of the readings, Juliette has posted summaries and her own reflections for Weeks 8 and 9.Week 8 involved reading the Tolmie (2001) and Crook & Dymott (2005) papers to introduce students to different socio-cultural perspectives, while Week 9 looked at Activity theory (cultural-historical activity theory to be precise) and how it might be useful in practice via the Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy (1999) paper. As part of the activities for week 8, students were asked to consider tools for social bookmarking. Some of the suggestions include:

Diigo (used to be Furl) which allows you to highlight web pages and use post-its
Delicious as it helps store relevant site links, including YouTube clips, and it allows you to tag and see other tags of urls into bundles. At the time of writing, there seems to be 90 delicious tags for H809...
Citeulike which comes across as more academic, though apparently didn't seem particulalry intuitive
Zotz for the Zotero plugin on Firefox, though the problem here is not knowing enough people who use it

With respect to the readings for Week 8, the issues that came up where the fact that maybe learning theories don't need to be mutually exclusive, that the word "context" doesn't always mean the same thing (does gender really count as context? c.f. Tolmie paper) and how the theory adopted by the researchers informs how the goals of the research are assessed. A link was posted to a paper available on ACM by Rousou and colleagues (1999) - you will need to be logged in to access it though - to illustrate how theoretically driven approaches have been used to analyse learning.

For Week 9, one of the key things identified concerning Activity Theory (AT) was how it emphasises that all meaningful activity is related to the environment in which it occurs. This entails the study of activity in authentic situations, rather than within a lab for example. However, this means there will probably be factors that will not be taken into account during the research process, as it is impossible to control for everything, so researchers need to be aware of this when interpreting the findings. Juliette also pointed out that while the approach outlined by Jonassen & Rohrer-Murphy to using AT to guide the design of learning environments might be quite useful, there might be problems applying to certain cases e.g. pure mathematics. Oh, and I really liked the findings the sentence that described AT as a "primarily descriptive tool rather than a prescriptive theory" (p. 68) because I think I said something along these lines in response to Juliette's posts and now I can back it up with a quote!

In terms of my own research, I can't say I found the last couple of weeks activities have been particularly inspiring. The main point I've taken from the readings and thinking about socio-cultural theories is the importance of context, and how you define it. The more I think about it, the stranger it seems to try and look at learning in isolation - so with respect to my own work, if I can't get access to "natural" settings where game play occurs, I would try and replicate those sort of conditions within a lab as much as possible. Plus, if I'm going to look at more than one player, it would be better to get them to play with (or against) friends or family members i.e. the people they would normally play with. Otherwise, I'm probably not going to be able to observe the sort of informal learning and engagement they would normally experience. I think the activity theory triangles help to visualise how the relationship between the subject and object is mediated by the tool(s) - and how one can affect the other and vice-versa. It's also useful for considering what constitutes context in terms of division of labour, community and rules. So, it might be helpful for thinking about what aspects to pay attention too. I'm not sure at this point if I'm going to be using AT for my own analysis but it's definitely helped me to consider the broader picture.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Tangential Learning

You can also find the article the video blog is based on here.

"Tangential learning is not what you learn by being taught rather it's what you learn by being exposed to things in a context with which you're already engaged in". This seems to fit in with something I've been thinking about for a while, namely that games seem to engage people who like games, and if that's the case then we do need more ways to get people 'tangentially' involved in other things. I guess what I'd like to know is, what is it that motivates that 0.1% of Final Fantasy fans to look up what a sephiroth is? Are they just more motivated than the rest of the players? Why? And doesn't this seem a little, well, shallow, in terms of learning? I mean I've played a lot of Civilization in my time but unless I really get stuck, I tend to ignore the Civilopedia and when I have looked at it, I usually just feel like I'm just skimming the articles as quickly as possible so I can get back to playing. Much in the same way I skim wikipedia articles I look up after being curious about references in films or even songs. Yes, I'm motivated by curiosity to look things up but I'm just not sure how much of it sticks....

So there are two things I want to take from this. The first is to do with the fact there seems little distinction between 'surface' and 'deep' learning when it comes to learning from games (to borrow terms from research on approaches to study). And the second is that there appears to be two sides to motivation: getting people interested in the first place and then keeping them interested. Again, I'm not sure that's something much of the literature of gaming has taken into account, and it's looking increasingly likely that I'm going to make a point of this in my own work.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

H809: Week 7 roundup

Ok, I think I've always been about a week behind with the posts but it also looks like people on the course are trying to play catch up too, and I've been pretty busy with PhD work, so I am probably a bit more behind than usual. And yeah, I haven't caught up on the reading for weeks 8 and 9 either...

But anyway. Week 7 has been interesting, but before I go on to that I wanted to post a couple of interesting links that have popped up on the forums since last week. The first is to a blog post called "How Online Communities and Flawed Reasoning Sound a Death Knell for Qualitative Methods". The second is related to last weeks discussions on audiences, and is a link to a New Scientist article on how the media can distort research findings. There was a little more talk about audiences and ethics as well, with it being pointed out that often a researchers write for themselves in order to clarify and work through ideas (i.e. you are your own audience) and that the notion of "informed consent" can be a tricky one when dealing with minors and those whose first language isn't English.

As for week 7 though, the main theme (and for the rest of this block) is learning theories. The discussions in the forums and on the blogs definitely suggest there is a fair amount of confusion going on here in terms of just what constitutes of learning theory and which ones go under what headings. One of the tutors posted a link to a summary of learning theories by Helen Beetham that fits in closest to my own thinking, which I hope helps clarify some of the confusion.

As for the readings, there were two papers this week. The first was by Conole et al. (2004) called ‘Mapping pedagogy and tools for effective learning design’. The paper attempted to provide e-learning practitioners with a framework to relate learning theory to practice. At least some of the debate in the forums related to how the criteria used to classify different learning theories (individual - social, reflection - non-reflection, information - experience) could be applied differently, and so perhaps the framework proposed would be better for enabling practitioners to see how their perceptions of different learning activities vary from each other. For a brief summary and interesting reflection on the paper see Juliette's post on Learning Theories (Part 2), where she also raises the question of just what is a learning theory exactly. Part of the weeks activities included trying to put the previous blocks (weeks 1 to 5) readings into the summary headings provided by Conole and colleagues such as behaviourism, constructivist. systems theory etc. Sonja had a go on her blog at Mapping papers onto theories. She also considered her own teaching in terms of learning theories.

The second paper by Jones and Preece (2006) is called ‘Online communities for teachers and lifelong learners: a framework for comparing similarities and identifying differences in communities of practice and communities of interest’. I think one of the most interesting points made in connection to this paper within the forums was about how the researchers developed a framework based on theory to inform their research but it still isn't clear from the paper alone how they came up with the factors included in the model. In relation to using theory to inform practice, I'd like to think these factors have come up as significant in previous research., especially as a lot of them (e.g. common ground, trust) are familiar from when I studied Human Computer Interaction at Bath. However, without having a copy of the previous publications referred to in front of me, it's difficult to know for sure. For an example of how the framework Jones and Preece present could prove useful for other research purposes, check out JM's post here. Juliette has also posted her reflections on the paper in Learning Theories (Part 3), including a consideration of the difference between theories and frameworks, echoing some of the discussions occurring in the forums.

Finally, all this talk about learning theories has gotten me thinking about how they relate to game-based learning. If I am going to use the categories used by Helen Beetham above, then I need to start with behaviourism. At the most basic level, I reckon that you could safely use a behaviourist perspective to discuss how players learn game controls - it's a simple case of pairing the right buttons (stimulus) with the right actions occurring in the game (response). As you move further into the game though, the constructivist learning principles start to come through - you are an active participant in this process, you have to try things out and regulate your performance while the game attempts to scaffold your activities by starting the game out easy and then making it progressively more difficult. If you are playing with other people, co-located or otherwise, social constructivism kicks in as your peers help you out, and/or you start engaging in collaborative activities. Finally, maybe you now start to see yourself as a "gamer", so apart from playing the game, you start to engage in other activities around it - talking about it with friends and online, reading magazines/blogs, contributing to walkthroughs etc essentially participating in a community of practice - or what James Paul Gee is talking about when he talks about "semiotic domains" and "affinity groups" of players.

For a really interesting take on how video games embody different learning theories see Ian Bogost's "Persuasive games" chapter 8. He mentions the three perspectives I used in the previous paragraph but what I find most interesting is how he explains the media effects argument as a behaviourist perspective. The idea is that violence in game-play will be reinforced and thus more likely to occur in real life, implying a direct transfer between the two environments. I doubt that the real story is as simplistic as this - otherwise I really would have beaten up an awful lot of people up by now, and probably stolen a couple of cars - but I guess you could argue that this is essentially what simulations are trying to achieve: a realistic a mapping as possible between the virtual and the real so that behaviour learnt within the simulation will directly transfer to real world situations. And I could see how that could be useful for certain kinds of training, but I always thought this was a situated learning approach, where you are essentially simulating how you would behave in a community of practice. Now I'm thinking,that you would still be doing that but through a process of reinforcement... But if I don't agree with the media effect argument, how can I defend using this same approach for educational purposes? And is this really how we learn from video games? I do know I am interested in games based learning, not simulation based learning or even serious games (which often seem quite similar to simulations), as I think they can provide with a very different sort of learning experience but I need to do a bit more reading and thinking before I can verbalise that.... Hmm, now I'm confused. But it's late and I think that's enough for today so maybe I'll come back to it later.

Monday, 30 March 2009

H809: Week 6 update

I had thought about combining this post with a week 7 entry, as it is a little overdue, but the forums have been a bit quiet so I thought I'd focus on week 6 and wait a little longer to give people a chance to discuss the relevant activities.

The theme of week 6 was audiences and ethics, and while there was no set reading to discuss, students were asked to listen to a podcast - which anyone can listen to from here (thanks to Juliette for posting the link). The podcast was discussion between James Aczel, Eileen Scanlon, Cindy Kerawalla, and Chris Jones about the impact of different audiences on the process of research and how it is reported. Discussions in the forums highlighted the importance of pitching proposals to funders in such a way as to justify the research planned (including a consideration of any ethical issues), the need to be cautious of distorting the findings by oversimplifying the message (e.g. when reporting to a non-technical audience), and how there can often be a tension between what the funders and the researchers want. The latter point is especially true of dissemination activities, as funders will often want publicity straight away, while researchers will tend to want to mull things over a bit and consider the implications. If anyone is interested, this link was posted in the forum cafe to a Guardian discussing the government's interest in "evidence based research". Another point that came up, was how it is common to disseminate the same research findings to different audiences. This reminded of conversations I had when working as a research assistant on the Racing Academy project, where we talked about dissemination in terms of both academic audiences and practitioners, because we also wanted the findings to be useful to teachers who wanted to use game-based learning in practice. In general, the discussions within H809 seemed to suggest that thinking about your target audience should happen quite early on in the research process, because it helps you address the issue who is likely to benefit from your research. This doesn't mean that you should tell funders or other audiences what they expect, but by considering what they might find most useful from the start, you won't have carried out a piece of research that no one wants to hear about! Meanwhile, Juliette and Sonja have both used their blogs to consider how the issues of audiences affect their own research.

In terms of ethics, a lot of the forum discussions focused on the ethics of carrying out research online. Part of this was about the "racial ravine" e.g. only 5% of Internet users are African-American and so a researcher has a duty to note that results may be influenced by inequalities in power relations (be they due to race, class, gender, sexuality etc) or cultural issues. Other issues raised were how to go about getting informed consent from participants (see Juliette's post on ethics for some examples of consent forms and information sheets) and how you can know whether someone online is who they say they are. Linked to the latter point was a suggestion that the Exploring online research methods website might be a little out of date, as there is little consideration of Web 2.0 technologies in terms of ethics. An article was also linked to about the failure of Captcha systems (which I seem to have to deal with everytime I buy gig tickets or post a blog comment) to distinguish between computers and humans. Students have also begun to think about how to address ethics in their own research by posting case studies to the wiki (which you can access here if you are logged into the course website) including JM who has posted her case study online. Finally, there was also some talk about the difficulty of maintaining the anonymity of participants. Changing someone's name is not always enough, as they can be identified by other information. For example, it was pointed out in the forums that while Hiltz and Meinke (1989) did not refer to participants by their real names, they did make a potential breach of privacy by informing us that not only did the Upsala college's ice hockey team take part in the project but also hat some of them failed to show up on-line on a regular basis. It is worth noting however, that even if care is taken to anonymise identifiable information about participants, they may still find it somewhat uncomfortable to read about how their behaviour is interpreted by the researcher(s). One way to avoid this is to make sure your participants get to read your interpretations before you publish them, but this also runs the risk of them withdrawing their consent during the final stages of your research...

As usual, I've been trying to think about my own take on the topics being addressed in H809. In terms of audiences, I think I'm probably focusing on an academic audience at the moment as I'm not looking at anything that directly relates to educational practice just yet. However, studying games and learning means there are a variety of academic audiences I can address as I seem to be some sort of psychology, computer science, education type crossroads which I can also talk about in terms of HCI (Human Computer Interaction) user experience evaluation. I think this will be especially obvious when it comes to writing up my findings, and is something I have already become aware by submitting papers to different types of conferences. In terms of ethics, I don't think I'm going to have any major problems as it looks like I'm going to be using adults (keep in mind that when children are being used in research projects, there will be even more ethical issues to consider and processes to complete such as a Criminal Records Bureau check), and won't be asking them to do anything that could cause them serious harm. That said, if I do end up using these gaming vests, there may be some potential for physical injury that I will need to take into account and justify my reasons for wanting to look into. I should also say that even though I didn't need to get ethical approval for the studies I carried out last year during my masters, filling in the OU ethics proforma was still quite a useful exercise as if helped set out what I intended to and made me think about all sorts of issues that need to be considered if you want to carry out an ethically sound piece of research that your particpants won't regret taking part in.

Monday, 16 March 2009

H809: End of block 1

This is just a quick post to wrap up the last of block 1 so we can all start afresh for the next part of the course.

I can imagine that everyone has been very busy getting the first assignment in (due today) so things have been a little quieter. In week four, there was some discussion about referencing tools and bibliographic software. It's something I have to keep reminding myself to do - keep track of what I'm reading and where to find it - but I have to admit I don't always stay on top of. But, once you get to grips with the tool you are using, it's one of those things that will actually save you time in the long run and well worth it. The main tools that have come up in the discussions include Refworks, Endnote and Zotero (which is the one I actually use). I did have a go at Endnote but Zotero just seems easier - I love the fact I can add references just straight from my browser, though you do need to be using Firefox to do so). Plus, if you use it in combination with something like Dropbox (suggested in one of the forums) you don't have to worry about only having access to it on one PC. Oh, and Zotero is also free, unlike the other two. In general, while using any of this kind of software does have a bit of a learning curve, the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages since they allow you to keep a record of what you've been reading, attach notes about this, create bibliographies in specific styles and avoid having to repeatedly search for the same document. Another link posted on the forum is to a review paper on blended learning, which shows how powerful things like using the keyword function can be (see appendix 1).

The last paper to be read in Block one was "Learning by Collaborating: Convergent Conceptual Change" by Jeremy Roschelle (1992). Unfortunately there wasn't a whole lot of discussion going on about this one, but it is rather heavy going and in combination with the upcoming TMA1, I suspect people had less time to get into it. Mike Protts did post his own reflections on the paper though, and relates them to "extreme programming". One of my supervisors gave me the paper to read last year, and I remember thinking at the time that it was an incredibly detailed account of a single case. While this obviously imposes limit on the generalisabilty of the claims made, the claims are often supported by referencing other studies, and the paper does provide a really interesting account of the processes that occur when trying to come to a shared understanding about scientific concepts - which are notoriously difficult to get right (see this link from the forums about how it can all go very wrong). I liked how the author discussed the findings in terms of theories of learning including constructivism and situated action. If pairs are learning through convergent conceptual change then it illustrates that collaborative learning can occur without the need for asymmetrical pairs (Vygotsky) and/or without cognitive conflict (Piaget) in order for the participants to achieve mutual understanding. By referring to situated action as well, there is a further emphasis on the context within which the interactions take place, because the environment is seen as an integral part of our cognitive processes. The reference also reminded of when I did my Human Communication and Computing MSc at the University of Bath, where we did an awful lot of talking about how technology can be used to support the process of achieving common ground during collaborative activities.

How does this relate to my current research? I'm not really sure it does to be honest, as even though I may be using a case-study approach I'm not sure I want one this detailed! While learning through collaborating is something I definitely want to keep in mind, I'm not focusing on formal learning of scientific concepts and I'm not sure I'd be comfortable enough to use a discourse analytic approach (in the form of conversational analysis) to analyse co-located game play interactions. But I guess it's an option! At the very least, it's given me something to think about in terms of methods and theories that concern collaborative learning.

So that's it for block one. I hope everyone got their TMAs in ok and that you're all looking forward to block two. It starts this week with a focus on audiences (something Sonja Tack has already been thinking about) and ethics.