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.