November 30, 2007

The International Journal of Computer Game Research

This peer-reviewed online journal has been infrequently published since 2001, providing an interdisciplinary platform for research on game research.

More than any other games research journal currently in publication, Game Studies (as the journal is commonly known), brings together an international authorship, pulling many articles from researchers in Western Europe as well as the United States.

The most current issue is from August 2007, featuring a mix of articles regarding the aesthetics of games, cooperation in multiplayer games, narratives in games, and content analysis. If you think that hacking and slashing is all that there is to computer games, check out this journal for an eye-opening look at ludology.

Posted by bjohnson at 3:11 PM

November 27, 2007

The Encyclopedia of Educational Technology

One thing I love about the web, even if you're avoiding work or killing time, you can't avoid running across useful web sites! Makes you want to find a quiet cabin off the grid .... but, never mind that! Here is what I found:

The Encyclopedia of Education Technology is a searchable and categorized list of topics pertaining to the intersection of technology and education. It is multimedia enhanced, written for educators, and contains references, suggested uses for technology and links for more information.

Frankly, it is awesome and looks like a wonderfully useful tool!

Posted by bjohnson at 5:06 PM

November 25, 2007


The Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (commonly known simply as MERLOT) has been a well-kept secret for 10 years.

In essence, it is a collection of educational materials, contributed and rated by author educators. The peer review ensures some degree of quality, which is lacking in many other online content sites. Much of the collection is freely available - without charge - to the general public, although some content is restricted to access by members or partners only.

Materials are grouped by category, and the site is searchable.

Discipline communities have also grown up within MERLOT as a whole, to help educators with instructional and professional development applicable to their unique needs.

While the idea of freely contributed and distributed learning modules is enticing, several difficulties exist with MERLOT. While materials are categorized and searchable, the process still can be cumbersome and time consuming if you are looking for a module on a specific concept. Even if you find one, you need to look through the whole thing to see if it will fit into your particular curriculum without raising issues or topics you are not ready to address.

The materials are also not sorted or categorized by appropriate age group. Many modules can be used for K-12 classes, although the site generally seems written to cater to the needs of higher education faculty.

Finally, many of the materials are web sites without any specific guidance for an instructor regarding what type of objectives the module was intended to meet or where it would fit into a curriculum.

All these problems aside, MERLOT is an excellent place to start looking for online support materials if your text book company does not already have a web site for that particular book. And, it may be a good place to connect with other educators or even an outlet for your own materials, if you think they would be helpful to other teachers or faculty members.

Posted by bjohnson at 9:16 PM

November 24, 2007

Definition: Avatar

Originally, the word "avatar" referred to the physical incarnation of a god.

In the game world, the word is used in a nearly opposite sense, indicating the digital representation in a virtual world or game of a physical person. In both uses, an avatar is the manifestation in one world of a being that exists also in another world - and often in different forms - spiritual, digital, or physical - depending upon the capacity of the world to hold such a being.

The term is most often used in reference to a representation of a player in a virtual world or an online, multi-player game (an MMORPG, MMOG, or MMO). These avatars are often customizable (to minor or great degree), and the player usually must provide a name for the avatar upon creation, causing some investment of the player into the characteristics and fate of their avatar.

This investment of a player into his or her avatar's characteristics is seen by some theorists to be greater than what players invest in generic characters, usually found in single player games and has sparked a number of research studies into online identity. See, for instance, the third chapter of What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, in which Gee describes the three identities involved in online gaming and their positive ramifications for educational practice.


Gee, J. P. (2003). What Video Games Have To Teach Us About Learning and Literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Posted by bjohnson at 12:37 PM

Definition: Emoticons

Emoticon: A symbol used in text-based online communication to indicate the mood of the author or the intended tone of the communication. They are composed of symbols from the standard English keyboard, often depicting a human face, turned on its side, exhibiting facial cues about mood.

Also known as a smiley.

Emoticons date back to the early 1980's, before graphical browsers became available, and are still used to contextualize informal written information in email, via the web, and in telephone based text-messaging (SMS).

A brief history of smileys is offered here:

A partial list of commonly used emoticons is also available at that same site ( - a larger dictionary is also available there for those who really need to express themselves.

Emoticons are useful in any informal, text-based communication. The emotional bandwidth, so to speak, of such media is very narrow. Without such emotional context clues, written messages can easily be misinterpreted.

Posted by bjohnson at 12:09 PM

November 23, 2007

Definition: Bot

The word is short for "robot", which hints at its use as an errand runner or assistant for a human being.

Also called spiders and crawlers, especially as relates to bots that work on the internet.

A bot is a computer program that generally emulates a human being performing some routine function with data, such as sorting information, collecting information for shopping, forwarding email, copying data from one computer to another, etc.

Bots usually run nearly constantly, performing their functions automatically, with little oversight by a human being. They also function behind the scenes, invisible to most average users. This combination of boundless and invisible automated activity is what concerns their critics. Little is often known about what a company's bots actually do in aggregating or transferring data - even to IT staff within that company.

On the other hand, bots make handling the vast onslaught of routine information feasible, keeping down costs in many industries and allowing the tailoring or categorization of information on many web sites.

Posted by bjohnson at 5:35 PM

November 19, 2007

Parent Game Review

It is still in beta, but What They Play is a surprisingly useful site aimed at parents who either buy games for their children or who still exert influence over what their kids buy - and play.

I say "surprisingly useful" because the site is well designed and usable as well as being informative without being preachy. Previous entries into the adult-guidance website market have tended to obsess about undesirable aspects of video games such as violence, sexuality, substance use (alcohol in particular), and glorification of criminal activity. This site does not shy away from pointing out that these elements are part of many popular titles, but it describes the content much as a movie reviewer would. Reviewers also remind readers of each game's ESRB rating, which - like a movie rating - should be a first-line guide to any parent wondering if a game is appropriate for his or her child.

The site is searchable via a number of factors. Look through titles by platform, age recommendations, or genre (yes, Virginia, games fall into genres like any other media), or popularity. You can even do searches based on multiple criteria, a rarity among similar sites.

For each game, you can read a reviewer's description, see related games, view the age range other parents think should play this game, and read comments from other parents. You can even join in by voting for the appropriate age range for a game, adding a comment of your own, and tagging the game using Facebook or DiggIt.

I have to say that the one thing I'd like to see on the site is a way to rank each game, similar to ranking a book at - and then allowing for visitors to search for a game by player ranking. Other than this one, small feature, the site is a welcome tool for parents who want to be informed when advising their children in making often very expensive purchases!

Posted by bjohnson at 9:43 PM

November 2, 2007

Definition of a Wiki

A wiki, to an casual reader, is just about the same as any web page. It is a mix of text and images, but heavy on the text. And they often are not well formatted.

Their use lies in the fact that a visitor can edit the content of the web page. At least, most of the time that is true - some wikis do restrict who can do the editing. This is why they can be really very useful for collaborative writing. And, a wiki keeps track of who does the editing and the various versions, so that, if something does go wrong, it can be rolled back to an older, more correct version.

On a standard, HTML web page, the casual visitor cannot modify the page - it is like reading a book electronically. There is no response back to the author, and it can be very difficult to have multiple people work together on a standard web site.

The most famous wiki is Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia. If something is wrong, you could correct it - right there and immediately. You can add to its links and references. You could create pages about related information, cultures, and history. It is a great way to spread and share knowledge. And also to check to make sure people are spreading correct information. That's a lot harder to do with a text book or a printed encyclopedia or even a web page.

It changes the power dynamic, which potentially gives marginalized people a stronger voice with which to educate people in other cultures. You have a lot more opportunity to touch people and educate them, if you feel pulled in that direction.

For educators, part of a book on educational uses of a wiki has been published online. Since wikis are essentially tools for collaborative writing, that has been one of their most popular uses - in writing classes. Check out Brian Lamb's Educause Review article: Wide Open Spaces: Wikis, Ready or Not for more details.

Posted by bjohnson at 10:17 PM