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December 27, 2006

Video Gaming in Education

For today, merely an interesting quote that I came across as I worked on a paper. A paper I am still working on, it should be noted. For the first time in my life, I'm cutting it very close in submitting a paper on time and may actually get an incomplete.....

Nevertheless, I recommend you read this article.

“Should we as teachers consider how video gaming might influence our teaching? First of all, a video game has the power to blur the line between learning and playing while building in content, reflective thinking, and discussions about decisions and consequences. A necessary component when using video-game technology is time built in for students to critique all aspects of the game. What makes for a great game design? If we could create our very own video game, what would it look like? Next, as teachers, we need to examine what game developers know about motivating students. Many students who appear to have short attention spans can play these intellectually challenging games for long periods. We need to tap into what these developers know--our students like a challenge. As educators we must face the digital divide and the uncomfortable place we find ourselves in as digital immigrants."

Norton-Meier, L. (2005). Joining the video-game literacy club: A reluctant mother tries to join the "flow". Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(5), 428-432.

December 24, 2006

Transformation THROUGH Vocational Learning?

The founder of karate (Gichin Funakoshi) once commented that the true purpose behind the study of karate is the perfection of character of the practitioners (Funakoshi, 2003).

Read that again slowly, for it is an odd concept for Westerners. American educators, especially in the adult education field, may find the link between learning physical skills and development of the self particularly foreign. Since the work of Eduard Lindeman, we have tended to define the term “adult education? as something properly separate from mere vocational learning (Smith, 1996). We separate the learning of tangible skills from the development of a person and from finding meaning and purpose to our lives. In marked contrast, for the martial artist, through years of kicking and punching and throwing one's partners, the ultimate goal is to become a person of noble character.

Funakoshi was not the only martial arts practitioner to come to this realization. The great samurai swordsman Miyamoto Musashi came to the same conclusion, leading him to write The Book of Five Rings. A book that is not about how to conquer one's foes but to conquer one’s self. It is ironic that it has become a best seller for the business crowd!

I have seen some of this transformational learning through the martial arts seep through in my own life. I remember one incident in particular that opened up for me the value of the karate in my own understanding of myself. It occurred when I won my division at a karate tournament for the first time in my late 30's and was standing in line to collect my trophy. It was the first trophy I had ever won in my life, and it was amazingly for this "macho" sport. While exhaustedly waiting, I met a woman a little older than I who had just done the same thing. Surrounded by kids picking up trophies, here we were as middle-aged "ladies,? getting teary-eyed over a goofy statue and sharing the experience. On an endorphin "high", we were reflecting together and individually on the moment.

The fact was that we had done much more than just win a few sparring matches to earn this honor. We had worked really hard at a difficult sport that was once reserved for men, and we had become good at it. It had taken resolve to even start and persistence to continue, especially with jobs and families competing for training time. The sport itself is incredibly demanding in stamina, balance, focus, speed, strength, and judgment. But most important it had forced us to face our fears every time we'd gone to the dojo, and it really tests one’s courage to go up in a ring against people you do not know.

So we stood there, sweating, realizing how much we had grown in order to come to this moment. It was not just a trophy indicating we had won a few rounds of glorified tag. It was a trophy indicated that we had won against everything that had tried to stop us from coming to that moment. We had beaten lifetimes of opponents; we had beaten our own limits.

So, if you look at what transformation can be made of a person through a simple sport - what could you do if you could show people that they can read? Or they can write and write well? Or they can run a computer? Who knows where you can go with the right situation and the right learner? If you can facilitate someone’s growth so that they pass their previous limits and challenge the world-view that labels them deficient, what can you facilitate in their understanding of their own meaning?

We, as adult educators, need to consider that transformation of a person can occur through learning “how to do? tasks. Not instead of it.


Funakoshi, G. (2003). The Twenty Guiding Principles of Karate. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Smith, M. K. (1996, January 28, 2005). “Adult education?, The encyclopedia of informal education.
Retrieved July 30, 2005, from http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-adedgn.htm

December 23, 2006

Online Game Developers Conference 2007

Aimed predominately at the techncial side of online games and related entertainment, this will be held in May 2007 in Seattle.

My advisor is submitting a proposal to talk about cross-functional teams, which is on the usage side of the topic, so I am hoping that similar talks will address the uses - particularily educational - of online games and worlds.

For more information, check the ODGC website periodically. At the moment, they do not have anyone other than the keynote speaker listed (a woman, btw, which is unusual given the stereotype of male developers....), but I assume the agenda and speakers will be listed by March.

December 21, 2006

Research and Writing

This is one feature of working on a Ph.D. at a research institution that I'm finding fun also potentially problematic. How do you apprentice under a faculty member in a hybrid or (in a perfect world) or distance education program?

Don't get me wrong. Classes this semester have been very good. High quality and challenging. Professors have given me lots of reading, good discussions and plenty of food for thought - and in 2 of 3 classes - and for the body. But when I step back at the end of finals week, I have to say that the biggest learning opportunity I have had this term has been through my job as a research assistant.

Through monthly reading sessions and weekly research team meetings, I have struggled through all of the problems (and experienced some of the joys) of working on publishable (we hope!) research. We have hashed through defining research problems, defined protocols, found approprate tools and methods, gathered data, analyzed data, and edited papers in progress. We have been elated and deflated together. We hash through thorny problems, borrow and lend books, and generally hang out - eating pizza and playing games. All which really require being physically together.

So, how would this work in a mixed or distance only environment?

For myself, travelling to and from Duluth most weeks, this actually has been OK. I miss out on some of the socializing but manage to make it to all of the scheduled meetings. But it does take planning and an understanding family.

What would substitute for this experience in a distance education program? Can we pull together a suite of tools that allow for the give and take involved in these work sessions? I think so, but we will need to experiment. And everyone will need to buy their own pizza!

December 17, 2006

Quantifying Qualitative Analysis of Verbal Data

Chi, M. T. H. (1997). Quantifying qualitative analyses of verbal data: A practical guide. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 6 (3) 271-315.

The goal of the article is to provide help for students learning how to analyse verbal and observational data, presenting an approach that integrates qualitative and quantitative methods so that interpretation is less subjective. The result is a practical guide which presents a method with 8 steps.

The verbal analysis the author undertakes centers around figuring out what the observed learner knows on the basis of what the learner says or does. Also, the observation aims to capture the ways in which knowlege influences the way in which the learner solves problems.

The article is also helpful in presenting a number of references to articles covering specific analysis methods of data such as videotape, gestures and drawings, among others. The author's method (called verbal analysis) is contrasted with protocol analysis. As it so often happens, a well-written, authoritative article's literature review section is a gold-mine in itself.

December 16, 2006

Changing Minds

Admittedly, I have only read a few chapters, but this book already is a standout!

The premise is that computers can be a basis for a new literacy and a catalyst for change.

I recommend it highly!

diSessa, A. A. (2000). Changing minds: Computers, learning, and literacy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

December 14, 2006

NVivo 7

I am sure that I will find things about this tool that I don't like, but so far, it looks like a great way to help me organize my collections of interviews, images, recordings, observations, links, etc. according to project and to record links and themes within them.

NVivo seems to have sprung directly from version 2 to version 7 (how or why, I don't know!). They offer other qualitative research software, so that may have messed with the numbering scheme.

At any rate, check out the newest version. You can download and try it for frree for 30 days - just the right amount of time between grading papers and resuming the lecture routine.... Go to QSR to download NVivo 7.

December 13, 2006

Theory and Skill

Praxis vs. nomos. Does theory lead to skill or vice versa?

Jerome Bruner, in The Culture of Education (1996) cites both Bacon and Vygotsky and ties together many strains of educational psychology. But one idea rings truest for me - that skill precedes the expression of a theory about it.

A couple of quotes:

First a translation of Bacon: "Neither hand nor intellect by themselves serve you much; tools and aids perfect (or complete) things." (p 152)

And also, on the same page: " Skill, to put it another is not a 'theory' informing action. Skill is a way of dealing with things, not a drivation from theory. Doubtless, skill can be improved with the aid of theory, as when we learn about the inside and outside edges of our skis, but our skiing doesn't improve until we get that knowledge back into the skill of skiing. Knowledge helps only when it descends into habits."

December 12, 2006


The first thing we think about when we start to design a program is the class format. That's not surprising, since it is the most obvious aspect of education in modern America - the school with its distinct arrangement of classrooms and ways to manage class activity. Just about any kid in this country, if asked to "play school" will immediately focus on recreating in play her version of a teacher and students in such an arrangement.

Fortunately, this most obvious aspect of my studies is going quite well ...

... and it would translate well into any hybrid format program.

It works so well into my life that I'm almost afraid to describe it lest someone think I - and fellow students - are goofing off. Each of my three classes meets once per week. Each meets for about 2 1/2 to 3 hours per class session. So, I spend no more than 10 hours per week sitting in class. Since these hours are arranged clumped together by some beneficent arrangement of the forces of the universe, I only need to be "at school" for about a day and a half. If we move that over to a long weekend, this becomes feasible for an arranged hybrid program. Meet twice per month for a long weekend.

Even better, one of these classes is a seminar course in which there is minimal, stilted discussion - perfect for ITV or other synchronous distance medium. The other two involve a combination of of online posting, online discussion, and face-to-face discussion - in short, they are already hybrid courses.

Any doctoral student can tell you that course work requires far more than these 10 hours per week. Reading and writing loads are heavy and take a good 40 oto 50 hours per week of work, but the level of study assumes a self-regulating learner.

When it comes to creating a hybrid Ph.D. program, it is not the class work that is the barrier. Institutions are already making sufficient use of electronic management programs to off-load much of the former need for campus presence. We need to look for other factors that cause institutions to be reluctant to plan such programs.

December 11, 2006

Games 4 Change

When I grow up, I want to work for these people: Games 4 Change.

It is easy to lose one's focus, especially in grad school where there are so many pressures and the assumption that a successful student will go on to research at a university - the more prestigious the better the the degree-granting institution.

And when I applied to UW-Madison, I did, intend in the foreground of my mind, to become a faculty member somewhere. Yet, in the quiet recesses of my heart, I retain the glimmer of hope that digital games can achieve something different than what is taught in the halls of schools. That digital games could finally help people learn to be better people, to become more aware of the ramifications of their choices and actions, and that society could gradually change for the better. Perhaps this can be worked into an academic class, but I begin to question if schools are ready to accept the changes required of them with a new emphasis in the economy, in society, and particularly in the generation that they are and will teach.

December 10, 2006


If I'm going to solve problems, I have to be honest with myself. I hate to make the substantial post of this section a con post, but this is what's on my mind right now.

I'm out of the loop.

Our little research group (the four of us - three grad students and one faculty member - has iChat, Gmail, grouphub, virtual worlds and games, and cell phones.

And yet, I have met with my advisor once individually - in August. She has met with the other two at least weekly.

What's the difference? Free time. Evenings and weekends when there are no formal meetings and classes. Time for breakfast and lunch and beer. Time to establish a more collegial and less formal relationship. Time to chat. Time to develop rapport.

At a distance, this is difficult to develop. So, I pose it as a barrier to implementation of a hybrid Ph.D. that needs to be addressed: how do you develop a good working relationship with a research advisor long distance?

History of Virtual Worlds

Virtual worlds and online multiplayer games have been around in some fashion or other since the mid-1970s. One man (and friends) now boldly choose to document this history at Virtual Worlds Timeline

December 9, 2006

You Can't Hug a Collie on the Phone

For those who don't know me, you need to understand one important thing. Kinda like the way Dickens notes in his Christmas tale - if you don't grasp this one fact, much of the entries in this category won't seem significant.

I live in Duluth, Minnesota. I am studying for my doctorate in Madison, Wisconsin. Between the two points lie some 330 miles. I am not in a distance education program but a traditional, residence required one. I am also a project assistant doing research in Madison. How does one pull this rabbit out of the hat??

The sad fact is that this trick can be pulled off only by throwing resources at it. I maintain two homes: a house in Duluth (where my family lives) and an apartment in Madison. I have two offices as well - one at home (moved from my suite in Canal Park) and one on campus. Don't ask me where any of my books are. Like Schroedinger's cat, I think they exist but I can't open the box to provide it because they are in an indeterminate state that I don't want to risk making determinate - I might find out that I lost one or more.

I have computers. Too many.

I drive a lot. I make up for the sheer amount of driving I do to and from homes by walking as much as possible when I am on campus.

In short, I manage this because I am in the upper-middle class. That wonderously mobile group that can increasingly extend its influence around the globe by use of technology. I can drive to Madison and back weekly, talk to friends in Tokyo, and do research on people located at almost any point of the globe. Despite the hand-wringing about the shrinking middle-class, right now is a wonderful time to be in that group.

But what if I were NOT in this position economically, as so many bright and talented students are not? How many potential, mature students simply don't go to school because of the disruption to their lives that it would require? This is a puzzle, and makes we wonder if the residency requirement of so many quality programs is truly necessary.

So, in this category, I will place observations about what I'm doing that focus on where I need to be in order to do that particular activity. The question will be, do I truly have to choose between colleagues and the collie for 3 to 5 years? Or is there a way to have both - opening up the highest levels of education to a broader variety of people?