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Friday, December 9, 2011

The wrong leadership style gets desired short term results at the expense of long term.

We are used to thinking of short-term results as a promise (or at least indicator) of long term results. If a student does well on a spelling quiz, he or she should be on the way to becoming proficient with vocabulary and language as a whole.

But that is not always the case. I wrote in Unschooling Rules:

Rule 24: Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership. (#unrules24)

Specifically, using the wrong form of leadership means sacrificing long term behavior changes in order to get target short-term behavior. If you order a child to write a paper on Roman history, you often enough are creating a long term resentment of both writing and history.

A great source for research on leadership comes from: Yukl, Gary (2002). Power & Influence in Leadership in Organizations 5th edition, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey

I like to look at Yukl's specifics in three areas:
  • First, what are the outcomes of the application of leadership (both good and bad)?
  • Second, what are the range of inputs available to a leader? How is leadership applied?
  • Finally, what is the system that connects inputs to outcomes? What inputs (or actions) lead to which outcomes and in which conditions?
The Outcomes of Leadership
In Yukl’s summary: “For a proactive influence attempt that involves a specific request by a single agent to a single target person, it is useful to differentiate among three distinct outcomes. Commitment…Compliance… and Resistance.” (page 147)
This Center for Army Leadership report Advanced Learning Theories Applied to Leadership Development expanded it well (italics and bullets added):
“Interpersonal influence (i.e., influencing others) can produce one of three outcomes (Yukl et al., in press).
  • The first outcome is resistance, where a subordinate is opposed to the leader’s request and will try to avoid doing it.
  • The second is compliance, where the leader provides a direct order to the subordinate and the subordinate carries out the order. This type of influence is often appropriate as the leader faces direct, immediate, high-stakes situations where accomplishing the mission at all costs is what matters. However, Yukl et al., (in press) have found that while compliance may be effective, it may also result in the subordinate becoming more apathetic and exerting less effort to future requests.
  • The third outcome is commitment, where the subordinate has a favorable attitude towards the leader’s request and puts forth the necessary effort to carry out the request.”
Given this framework, we can see how compliance to a leader may generate short term target behavior, but very little (if any) long term behavior changes. In contrast, commitment to a leader is infinitely more valuable and long lasting. So a fifth grade teacher, for example, may get compliance to take a test or write a paper, but in a way that actually creates more problems for the subsequent eight grade teacher.

The Application of Leadership
Yukl also identified different techniques of leadership. These are what leaders do, and they fall into these categories:
  • Pressure - Using explicit demands
  • Legitimate request - Source of authority is basis for request
  • Exchange - A trade of desired actions or items
  • Personal appeal - Friendship or loyalty is basis for request
  • Collaboration - Assistance or resources are offered
  • Rational persuasion - Experienced expert provides evidence or logical arguments
  • Apprising - Explaining benefits of specific requested action (benefit not under Advisor control)
  • Inspiration- Using strong emotion to build conviction
  • Participation - Involving others to establish “buy in”
  • Relationship building - Rapport and mutual trust are basis for request

Connecting Approach to Results

The pragmatic issue, of course, is "how do you use the right approach to get the desired results?" This involved understanding the connections between actions and results.

Yukl found that certain influencing techniques were more likely to drive the result of commitment, while others were more likely to drive compliance. As clear examples, pressure (“do this now”) often drives compliance while collaboration often drives commitment.

Finally (and this is a bit nuanced), the best leaders further match the right style of leadership to the target of influence's specific resistance:

  • Logical (“head”), if the target did not feel intellectually connected to the goal;
  • Emotional (“heart”) if the target did not feel emotionally connected to the goal;
  • Cooperative (“hands”) if the target needed help;
  • Direct if the target just needed to know what to do quickly and simply.
The actions of the influencing techniques get the most positive results if they match up with the type of resistance from the target. For example, if a target was displaying emotional resistance, the right influencing techniques were inspirational and personal appeal.

Here's a chart:

Type of ResistanceSuccessful Influencing Techniques
Cognitive / "Head"Rational Persuasion, Exchange, Apprising
Emotional / "Heart"Inspiring, Personal Appeals
Cooperation / “Hands”Collaboration, Participation
DirectPressure, Legitimate Request

Schools are set up to use a directive leadership style that delivers, at best, short term compliance in students. And while some teachers hack the system to use different and more long term approaches to build commitment, they do it a personal and professional cost.

Any system that mistakes (and rewards) compliance over commitment will create a social time-bomb and a highly specific set of school "winners". But the educational industrial complex may not have any choice.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Profile: Algebra Touch

Title Algebra Touch
Version 1.3
Other versions
Developer Algebra Touch
Number in Series
Company Description Independent Developer
Description Touch interface to do basic algebra.
Categories/Folksonomy Education, math, algebra.
Lead Designer
Other Designers/ Writers
Lead Programmer Sean Berry
Lead Artist / Video Darran Morris (app-bits.com)
Price 2.99
Link http://itunes.apple.com/ us/app/algebra-touch/id384354262?mt=8
Demo Available Yes: http://itunes.apple.com/ us/app/algebra-touch-intro-order/id451195905?mt=8
Link to Video http://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=A4SdNUwgkcg
Link(s) to Support Material
Platform(s) iOS - iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch
Customizable (1 to 10) 3 (you can create your own problems)
Special Hardware
Toolkit/Language used Objective-C / UIKit
Year Designed 2010
LMS Integration/ SCORM
Skill Level (Corporate/Military/Government)/Grade Level (Academic) Beginning Algebra
Student time
Available ([O]pen / [R]estricted by Organization / [N]o longer Available O - Available on App Store
Single player/Multiplayer Single player
Category: Serious Game

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Profile: WolfQuest: Survival of the Pack Deluxe

Title WolfQuest: Survival of the Pack Deluxe
Version 2.5.1
Other versions
Sponsor/Producer Minnesota Zoo
Developer Eduweb
Number in Series
Company Description Eduweb develops award-winning learning games and interactives for the web, museum exhibits, and mobile devices. Our mission is to create exciting and effective learning experiences that hit the sweet spot where learning theory, digital technology, and fun meet. Our projects have won dozens of prestigious awards, including fifteen MUSE Awards from the American Association of Museums, four Best of the Web awards from Museums and the Web, an Editor’s Choice Award from Children’s Software Review, and many others.
Description An immersive, 3D wildlife simulation game, WolfQuest challenges players to learn about wolf ecology by living the life of a wild wolf in Yellowstone National Park. In the single-player game, players explore the wilderness, hunt elk, and encounter stranger wolves in a quest to find a mate in the fall, then in late winter and spring, they must find a den, establish a territory, raise pups and defend them from predators such as coyotes and grizzly bears. Online multiplayer games let up to five players form a pack to explore and hunt together. The WolfQuest experience goes beyond the game with an active online community where you can discuss the game with other players, chat with wolf biologists, and share artwork and stories about wolves.
Categories/Folksonomy Education,Ecology, Wildlife, Simulation
Lead Designer Grant Spickelmeirs, David T. Schaller
Other Designers/ Writers Steven Allison-Bunnell
Lead Programmer Russell Lunsford
Lead Artist / Video Steve Wagner
Price Free
Link www.wolfquest.org
Demo Available No
Link to Video www.wolfquest.org/ preview_video.php and www.wolfquest.org/ preview_video_ep2.php
Link(s) to Support Material www.wolfquest.org/ about_wolves.php
Platform(s) Mac, Windows
Customizable (1 to 10) 0 (not customizable)
Special Hardware No
Toolkit/Language used Unity
Year Designed 2006-2011
LMS Integration/ SCORM No
Skill Level (Corporate/Military/Government)/Grade Level (Academic) None / Youth
Student time 3-5 hours
Available ([O]pen / [R]estricted by Organization / [N]o longer Available Available / Open
Single player/Multiplayer Single and Multiplayer
Category: Course with sims | simulations | serious games | game Serious Game

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Profile: Building Detroit

Title Building Detroit
Version 1
Other versions
Sponsor/Producer Detroit Historical Society
Developer Eduweb
Number in Series
Company Description Eduweb develops award-winning learning games and interactives for the web, museum exhibits, and mobile devices. Our mission is to create exciting and effective learning experiences that hit the sweet spot where learning theory, digital technology, and fun meet. Our projects have won dozens of prestigious awards, including fifteen MUSE Awards from the American Association of Museums, four Best of the Web awards from Museums and the Web, an Editor’s Choice Award from Children’s Software Review, and many others.
Description One family. Five generations. Countless ways to build a city. Starting as French immigrants in 1750, players try to make a living as farmers in the feudal economy of New France. Subsequent levels span 150 years of Detroit history as the city grows into a major industrial center. In each level, players take on the role of one of their children from the previous level, deciding who to marry, how to raise their children, and what job to do, based on the career choices of that time period. Every decision has consequences, giving players a lasting memory of what it might have been like to have lived in the historic times that shaped Detroit.
Categories/Folksonomy Education, History, Economics
Lead Designer David T. Schaller, Tobi Voigt
Other Designers/ Writers
Lead Programmer Paul Gardner
Lead Artist / Video Steve Wagner
Price Free
Link http:// buildingdetroit. detroithistorical.org
Demo Available No
Link to Video
Link(s) to Support Material
Platform(s) Browser-based Flash
Customizable (1 to 10) 0 (not customizeable)
Special Hardware No
Toolkit/Language used Flash
Year Designed 2011
LMS Integration/ SCORM No
Skill Level (Corporate/Military/Government)/Grade Level (Academic) Novice / Youth
Student time 60-70 minutes
Available ([O]pen / [R]estricted by Organization / [N]o longer Available Available / Open
Single player/Multiplayer Single player
Category: Course with sims | simulations | serious games | game Serious Game

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Education is Individualistic

The goal of education is fairly straightforward.

For everyone, it is to discover, line up, and enrich:
  • their individual skills (what they do well compared to others) with
  • their individual opportunities (such as projects, activities, internships, and increasingly sustaining jobs) with
  • their individual sustaining strategies and relationships (notably career and family) with
  • their individual beliefs and passions (including how to best improve the human condition).

For a good life: align what you are doing with what you do well with what you want to do with what you think is important to do (in a growing and sustainable way).

There are some common skills such as reading, writing, and arithmetic (but not many). Each area must be discovered, expanded, tested, and rigorously honed. (As they say in the marketing world, most people have never tasted their favorite breakfast cereal.) And someone who loves cooking may have to fill in the non-intuitive and uncomfortable skill of reading a balance sheet if they want to open a restaurant. But educational activities that involve large passive groups are delaying tactics in meeting these goals, not solutions.
Can centralized schools play a role? Absolutely. But the role for traditional classes is smaller than we dared imagine. Currently, the DNA of schools with 'universal' approaches is to teach material that may line up with some students and not others. Which means education is a lottery - if your skills and aptitude happen to line up with one of the school paths, you win! But if not, you loose. 

New educational approaches are needed, for each of the rings, around exposure, play, and rigor. We have to resist the urge to put moral value on alignment of natural aptitudes with specific, predefined paths. Because adults are different, education is necessarily individualistic. Educational models for all ages will have to be as well.

My Original Notes (from my Moleskine)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Chicago Tribune: "Supplement your child's education by stealing a few pages off the home-schoolers' playbook"

The Chicago Tribune ran an excellent piece today called Home-schooled lessons: Supplement your child's education by stealing a few pages off the home-schoolers' playbook.

Here is an excerpt:
In "Unschooling Rules," Clark Aldrich lays out 55 ways for parents to inject a little "unschooling" in their kids' lives. Here are five standouts.
  • Create portfolios of children's deepest interests and accomplishments over the years to augment school transcripts.
  • Increase your children's time spent with adult experts who are passionate about what they do. Be out of sight, but do this without "dropping off" your children and transferring responsibility, at least initially.
  • Take your children on short family trips, even if it upsets the schools.
  • Include meaningful work into every week. (Taking care of a neighbor's pet, recycling, cooking a meal for someone.) Don't let the abundance of papers due and tests get in the way of helping your children actually help other people.
  • Encourage play in areas of interest. Allow children to pursue passions, even when it gets in the way of doing homework. Be prepared to fudge a sick day for both parent and child to indulge areas of deep passion.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Places to Learn

The activity of farming teaches ethics as well as business and science. Many corporations today seem to be run by MBA's who think in terms of cramming, gaming the system, extraction, and winning for the sake of winning (95% of people in a survey thought L.L. Bean was now on the wrong track, as an example), all the attributes developed and rewarded by the current industrial school system.

Now consider the activity of family farming over writing term papers or studying for tests. Farming takes patience, physical work, stewardship, and the ability to react to a dynamic, real system.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Interview with Brock Dubbels

For book research, I interviewed Brock Dubbels.

This helped inform:

  • #unrules24: Teaching is leadership. Most teaching is bad leadership.

Here is a piece where Brock explains his experience teaching high school, which should be a role model for all involved in education, including in traditional schools and homeschools:

I teach fluid dynamics and aerodynamics to “at risk” high school kids. I try to appeal to the things that might be interesting.
I know if talk about certain words too early like resistance, displacement, or friction, the students are going to check out. So what I say instead is, "next week I'm bringing in my wading pool. And we are setting up the first lake this school has ever had. And we are going to have a boat race. To win the boat race, you have to win in one of four categories: speed, weight-bearing, maneuverability, or general purpose.”
The students get a general idea of what their goal is. But they also realize that they will need things that don't currently have.
Then I asked the question, "If you were to learn about boat building, how would you like to do it?" I begin to elicit people's responses. This helps me get a sense of prior knowledge. By doing this I've accomplished building interactivity from the beginning, and I also start introducing the concept of choice. Of course, from my perspective, all of the interactivity is pre-structured. But the students don't know they're being shepherded. They just know that going to a better pasture.
Then I ask the question, "What would you build if you knew you couldn't fail?" This gets their imagination involved. This engages their ability to visualize.
Then we start building communities. I ask people to share “perfect world stories.” For example, I might say, "if you are to build boats, and you are to have a race, and I provide all of the materials for you, what would that look like? How would you build your boat? Are there other races you'd like to have?" We start tapping into the excitement.
Most people like the default model that I have up on the board. But there are always some people that won't engage unless they have some sense of choice. They won't engage unless they are heard. I look at these people as desperately wanting leadership, and not willing to involve themselves unless they have a leadership role. So, I try to get them into a leadership role as fast as possible.
This is consistent with the research around affinity groups for communities of practice. The question is, how do you distribute leadership and not hoard it?
What we might do is write up on giant sheets of paper the various ideas, and give people votes. We can have the class control the experiment.
The nice thing about this phase is, if it is done right, it eliminates one of the biggest criticisms of any kind of formal learning, which is that it's not relevant and not interesting. The students can control both.
In some cases, the students can even determine how I am going to grade them. Generally they don't deviate very far from the guidelines I put up for them. But we are creating education that is co-created not tops down or hierarchical. So we might have a wiki that explains the day-by-day curricula, and I give students the ability to change that up to the morning of that day’s class.
See more on leadership styles here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Clark Aldrich interview of Will Wright, Warren Spector, and Jane Boston on Games and Simulations

While doing book research on the limitations of traditional media and the need to "learn to do" as well as "learn to know" I talked to three computer game designers:

  • Will Wright (WW)
  • Jane Boston (JB)
  • Warren Spector (WS)

This helped informed some of the Unschooling Rules, including:

  • #unrules01: . Learn to be; learn to do; learn to know.
  • #unrules26: Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.

(See Eliane Alhadeff's Unschooling Rules – Serious Games As Microcosms For Learning for more details.)

Here is what they said:

Clark: What ideas (and types of ideas) are best taught through simulations? What ideas (and types of ideas) should never be taught through simulations?

JB: From my perspective, simulations are best used in four ways.

First, they are ideal for developing an understanding of big ideas and concepts – those things for which experience alone can deepen understanding. It is one thing to memorize a definition of nationalism or to read a passage describing the brittleness or fragility of an ecosystem; it is quite another to enter into an environment where those ideas play themselves out based on your own actions and ability to identify and solve problems.

Secondly, I believe simulations are great for dealing with time and scale. The computer gives us an opportunity to speed up results of an action that might actually take several lifetimes to play out. This allows players to see the potential impact of decisions made now on the future. Dire warnings about issues like the finite amount of drinkable water on the earth rarely impact people’s behavior, yet a simulation has the potential of creating an emotional connection to the information that may have at least some small influence on both understanding and behavior.

I think simulations are good for situations where it is important to give people practice in decision-making before it is faced in a dangerous or critical, real-life situation. Some of the simulations used for emergency personnel provide an opportunity to experience “life-like” situations and react to unexpected and challenging problems.

Finally, simulations are wonderful resources for taking us to a time or place that we are unable or unlikely to experience directly.

Simulations are not appropriate for teaching discreet bits of information (“facts”) or for rote drill and practice. Because they are an immersive experience, they are better suited for those things that need to be learned in context and require active problem solving. There are some topics that are controversial and until we understand better what is taken away from the experience, we need to be cautious in implementing. Is a simulation of a WWII battle an immersive history lesson or a lesson in combat techniques? A simulation should never be treated lightly as “only a game”. Good simulations have the capacity to generate very strong thoughts and feelings in their participants and anyone using a simulation should be prepared for that possibility.

WS: I'm no expert when it comes to training and/or education but common sense tells me that simulations are best suited to dealing with matters of the mind rather than matters of the body. I think there are two reasons for this. First, our simulations are still pretty rudimentary -- we typically simulate only a few forms of sensory input, making genuine immersion in the sim a hit-or-miss proposition. Also, we interface with current simulations in ways that are radically different than the ways in which we interface with the real world -- I mean, there's no real world analogue of a mouse and keyboard or a gamepad! Simulations that utilize more realistic interface elements (cockpit mockups, bobsleds, skis, etc.) are few and far between.

Simulations, then, seem best suited to teaching concepts, tactics, general approaches to situations rather than specific actions. And the limited depth of our simulations today means that, even when we have real-world analogue interfaces, it's imperative that the people operating the simulation provide appropriate context and additional instruction to those who might mistake the partial simulation for an accurate recreation of a real situation...

WW: Simulations are great for understanding processes that are outside of our experience. You can play with time or scale. You can interact with molecules and planets. Many designers tend to map them into instinctive structures that we already have, either through analogy, or through gut-feel. And for a lot of things, of course, the human mind is better than any computer.

Clark: Can games change the behavior of players outside the game? How could you maximize the transferability of game-learned experiences to life?

JB: Because behavior is based on what we know and have done before, games become part of our overall experience. The degree of impact they have is much like the rest of life and is dependent on what the player brings to the game in terms of knowledge, skills, and attitudes; the context and circumstances in which the game is played; and what happens before and after the game. I’ve facilitated “off-line” simulations in which some participants exhibited extreme forms of emotion and carried feelings from a simulation into their relationships with others throughout the course of a two –week institute and again months, even years, later on in follow-up workshops.

I believe the transferability of game-learned experiences can be maximized by being clear about the purpose of the simulation before using it and by thinking of it as one tool in an overall learning experience. Setting an appropriate context with the players in advance is important; as is making sure that the players understand the rules and roles. In some simulations, guided practice may be needed before starting the actual game.

From my perspective, the most critical elements of a simulation come after the game itself. Debriefing what has happened – what a player experienced, felt during the simulation and is feeling afterwards, what strategies were tried and what happened, what other strategies might have been applied, what else the player needed to know or be able to do, analogies to real life situations, how the players’ own values and experience influenced their actions -- are all important items for discussion.

WS: I think the most anyone can say about the effect games may have on
player behavior is that some people will be affected in some ways at some times by some games. Not much there upon which one could or should base an educational program (or public policy!). I think the key to using games to influence behavior and/or learning is to put specifically conceived and implemented games in an appropriate context (a classroom, for example) and use them to teach very specific, targeted things. In general, I've seen very little evidence, anecdotally, that game-playing has any more influence on behavior than any other entertainment medium or social situation.

Clark: How accurate does a simulation have to be to be a valid teaching tool?

WW: In most interesting fields, like weather modeling, predictive simulations are very difficult or impossible. However the property of weather being unpredictable can be a property of a good descriptive simulation.

Let me give you an example. Say you put the ball on the tip of a cone, and let it go. A perfect predictive simulator would tell you exactly which side of the cone the ball would fall for the exact condition set up. A descriptive simulator, like SimCity, would probably use a random variable to decide down which side the ball would fall. While that simulation would fail at being predictive, it would teach both the range of possibilities (i.e. the ball never falls up), and also from a planning perspective, it teaches that you can’t rely on predicting the exact outcome, and how to deal with the randomness.

I have seen a lot of people get misled. I see a lot of simulations that are very good descriptive (like SimCity), but a lot of people use them predictive (like a weather model).

Clark: How do you research topics for a new product? What is the role of subject matter experts? A person from what perspective (i.e. academic, practitioner, consultant) has the most useful information and perspective for making a simulation?

JB: Our ideas come from many places. With George Lucas as our creative director, they often come directly from him. He has a great interest in simulations and their potential as a learning tool. We also research commonly taught topics in schools and think together about which ones can be done better using computer technology. It is important to us to connect our work to those things being taught every day in classrooms.

Subject matter experts play a key role in making and creating simulations. We like to put people from lots of different perspectives around the same table when we’re working on a high concept. We’ll bring together academic experts, practitioners, and others with interesting backgrounds to help us identify the most important themes and ideas for us to convey through the simulation. For example, when we were creating Star Wars® The Gungan Frontier™, our ecology simulation, we worked with teachers, population biologists, ecology and science center staff, zoo educators, etc. You need a mix of those whose work focuses on the big ideas and concepts, those who are working directly in applying that knowledge in everyday work, and those who are translating that into educational experiences for others. None of these alone is sufficient. I also love to add to the mix that person who brings an unusual connection to the topic to the table.

WS: You research topics for a game project pretty much as you would any other kind of media artifact. You figure out what you're trying to
achieve -- what you hope players experience as they play -- and start digging up books, magazines, movies, web pages and anything else that can help you get where you're trying to go. I hate to sound mysterious or mystical but there's no one answer to this question. If you're making a game set in real world locations, go find information about those locations. If you're making a fantasy game, you might want to read every fantasy book you can get your hands on so you understand the genre's conventions well enough to represent them well (or undermine them, depending on your intent!). In making the kinds of games I do, "experts" really don't enter the picture much. (It'd be tough to find an Illuminatus who'd admit to being one and orcs and elves don't talk to humans much.) But if you were making a game about the LAPD or the Navy SEALS, you better talk to some real LA policemen or some SEALS... But, really, where games are concerned, experts and real-world information sources are only so valuable. Making a successful "real world" game involves knowing where to deviate from reality in the interest of fun more often than it does knowing reality inside out so you can cleave to it religiously.

WW: That is my favorite part of a game. I usually do a game that I am interested in. I find someone who is either controversial, or between two fields. I will use content experts as canaries in the mine. I did SimEarth based on Lovelock’s Gai.

Clark: Gaming is starting to reach the masses. What lessons can e-learning learn as it tries to do the same?

JB: Stay close to the learner (your customer) – understand his or her needs, interests, and context. Be very clear about you’re trying to do and don’t try to do everything. Use the computer in ways that take advantage of its unique capabilities. Get good at doing each thing well before spreading out to other things. Just because things are possible to do, doesn’t mean you should do them – especially when it comes to the high-end stuff. It’s important to create the highest quality possible product with tech specs that match the installed base. And, to develop products at a cost that keeps the price point appropriate for the budget realities of schools or other customers and allows developers to sustain themselves financially.

WS: As developers try to reach larger and larger audiences (to offset
larger and larger development budgets!), we have to focus on a few critical points, I think: Any time we think something is too simple, we have to make it simpler. We absolutely must streamline our interfaces and make them so intuitive users forget they're even USING an interface. We have to make sure users know exactly WHAT they're supposed to do at all times and challenge them to figure out HOW. We might even want to consider leaving the fantasy ghetto behind and giving people subject matter they're already interested in -- in other words, make games that have built-in appeal to a larger audience.

Clark: What are the elements that make a simulation immersive (i.e. to make someone who is playing the game buy into the illusion)? What happens that breaks people out of "immersiveness?"

JB: There are many factors that affect this. Perhaps the most important is what I’ve heard George Lucas call the “immaculate reality.” Attention to the detail and cohesiveness of the simulated environment is crucial. One discordant factor breaks the illusion. Likewise the choices and actions the player faces must fit within that universe and its internal “rules.” One of the important tasks a player faces in a simulation is making sense of the world he or she has entered and figuring out its internal rules – both its consistencies and its intentionally designed inconsistencies. It is important not to break into a simulated experience with peripheral information. For example, you wouldn’t want to interrupt an ecological simulation with something flashing questions about your experience at you. Save the questions for later.

WS: At the most fundamental level, making a simulation immersive involves removing as many obstacles as possible between player and belief in the reality of the depicted world. Obstacles take many forms -- shifting camera position during play (e.g., third-person conversations in a first-person game); forcing players to switch from real-time gameplay to separate interface screens; dialogue presented in text, rather than spoken, form; objects that don't behave and/or can't be used like their real-world analogues... I'm not saying you want to recreate the real world but, certainly, you want to strive for internal consistency, at least, so players aren't reminded they're "just playing a game" any more than necessary. What you want to do is (and I'm about to reveal a boatload of prejudices here!), create a game that's built on a set of consistently applied rules that players can then exploit however they want. Communicate those rules to players in subtle ways. Feedback the results of player choices so they can make intelligent decisions moving forward based on earlier experience. In other words, rather than crafting single-solution puzzles, create rules that describe how objects interact with one another (e.g., water puts out fire, or a wooden box dropped from sufficient height breaks into pieces and causes damage based on its mass to anything it hits) and turn players loose – you want to simulate a world rather than emulate specific experiences. Okay, I'm officially failing to get my point across so I'm going to stop.

WW: The more creative the player can be, the more they like the simulation. This might be giving them a lot of latitude. People like to explore the outer boundaries. There is nothing more satisfying than solving a problem in a unique way. Another derivative: being able to describe yourself to the game, and the game builds around you. It also helps if a player can build a mental model of what it going on in the simulation. This has more to do with the interface. All it takes is one weak link in the chain to blow this. Have them think they understand it enough to start testing their theories. At this point they are reverse engineering your program. You want to give them an entry path. People will say, “Oh wow, my mental model was way off.” Most of my games use an obvious metaphor and a non-obvious metaphor. They think it is a train set, but they come to realize it is more like gardening. Things sprout up and you have to weed.

Clark: How do you reward or penalize a player within the context of a simulation?

JB: I’m a strong believer that logical consequences are the best and only reward or penalty for a player in a simulation.

WS: I'm not sure penalizing players is ever appropriate in a game. Well, that's an overstatement. Obviously, there are inevitable penalties associated with failure but, when you can just load a saved game and try again, how severe do you want those penalties to be? Basically, game development is about presenting players with genuine challenges and then providing sufficient rewards to keep them feeling good about themselves and eager to tackle the NEXT challenge. Reward schedules are critical. But penalties? Punishment? Sounds like entirely the wrong tack to take. But maybe games are different from more educationally motivated sims in this regard...

WW: With a game, you need some kind of reward structure. I try to have several goal path; I try not to force them down anuyl. In SimCity, you can go for happiest people, or biggest city. There has to be paced reaward structure. Some rewards – RTS, forced multipliers, some things that a – you can build a unit that allows you to do something – decisions that force them to think long term vs. short term gain. Giving them strategic decisiojns. Giving the peoiple maximum creativeity. The games are really just problems.

There is never one way. One way kills creativity. New ways of solving problems drives people in wanting to share experiences.

The photo albums in The Sims are important. We have to create new ways for users to share. Otherwise people used to feel as if they wasted the time they spent playing a game. So it is important to have an artifact that they walked away from the game. They can show people. Getting people to engage other people with what they learned is critical. If you can get people to talk about, it creates a snowball effect. You have to create glue. The community becomes the effective tool for learning.

Clark: Any ideas at how to measure the effectiveness of a simulation? Please?

JB: All of us who work with these powerful tools realize how complex and difficult it is to measure their effectiveness. Subjective tools such as pre/post discussions, interviews, writing activities can capture some of this. Rubrics have been developed to look at actual participation during the course of a simulation, but I tend to oppose that approach. Test performance on measurable items may be used, but it is impossible to separate what combination of things contributed to the learning measured and to account for any learning not covered by the test items. If you figure this one out, let me know!

WS: I haven't a clue. The measure of a game's success is in sales or, possibly, in critical acclaim. If players tell me they played Deus Ex for 12 hours straight without eating or going to the bathroom, the team succeeded; if they stop playing after five minutes, we've failed. Similarly, great reviews tell us one thing, bad reviews tell us another. From a slightly different standpoint, if players describe the way they solved problems in a game and, in doing so, describe situations the team didn't preplan and didn't anticipate, well, that's a big win. But in terms of measuring the effect of a simulation or determining what was learned by a player, in any specific way? Beats me. You'd have to talk to an educator or a psychologist about that. And even then I'm not sure I'd believe the answer. But maybe I'm just a cynic!

WW: You first have to develop intent. The most interesting things to use simulations for are the hardest to measure. Teaching creative problem solving is very difficult to measure. A simulation is more like on-the-job experience. It is a broader element. You have experienced a larger landscape of possibilities. How you measure that, I wouldn’t want to hazard a guess. It almost feels to me that the forces that demand tight metrics would not co-exist with simulation users. They may be incompatible ecosystems.

Friday, September 9, 2011

My Sim About Anti-Doping (#unrules01)

I designed this sim for the World Anti-Doping Agency to allow young athletes from all over the world to experience choices around doping. It strives to focus not on either "learning to know" or "learning to do" but on "learning to be." Take a look at this video about it:

(I had to create a neutral fictitious sport so as not to disengage any real athlete, and JumpCross came out really well!)

The process I used to create this sim, and countless others, is outlined in Designing Sims the Clark Aldrich Way (a draft of an upcoming book), and my upcoming conference Serious Play, both aimed at industry professionals. Then play the adventure game here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Education Mission of Our Lifetime: Develop World-Class Mathematicians and Scientists from 5% of Today's Homeschooling Students

Here is the education mission of our lifetime: Develop World-Class Mathematicians and Scientists from 5% of Today's Homeschooling Students.

Hopefully, the national need for a world-class Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics skill set is self-evident. (This is on top of a broad base of STEM literacy for almost everyone.) These skills are necessary for building anything of value. They are not sufficient, of course, but sine qua non.

Let's at least think that perhaps some new "things" have to be done to improve our nation's Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) competencies.

The instinct of national agencies and foundations alike is to initially aim broad efforts towards children in traditional (and typically public) schools. After all, this is where the volume is.

There are some problems, of which two are:

  • Schools waste a lot of student time, both with curricula bloat and bureaucratic busywork, with no end in sight. Both makes it hard for schools to squeeze in any new or deeper material, but it also prohibits healthy learning, including allowing for the "playing around" and experimentation with the material necessary for real learning. A budding engineer in a traditional school has to stop designing to cram for the next French class.
  • For those creators of innovative programs targeted at public schools (and I have sat in so many of these planning sessions), just too much effort gets siphoned off on trying to pave the way. "How can we make it politically acceptable?"

So, why develop a major STEM program targeted at homeschoolers?

  • There are a lot of them, over one million.
  • They have a lot more time in the day. There is no lining up for "Class A" or waiting while attendance is being taken or in a queue for the bus.
  • A program does not have to fall into neat academic blocks of classes, trimesters, or school years
  • Homeschoolers can embrace their passions more. They have the opportunity to do what anyone who really learns a subject does: obsesses, plays, experiments, forms communities, and searches for experts. A homeschooler at the top of his or her game should know a topic better than a similarly talented and interested person in a traditional academic program.
  • And, a lot of homeschoolers have a significant gap between their raw passion and talent on one hand and the available structured programs and pathways on the other (as do many traditionally schooled children).

However, any program designer needs to think how to design a program for homeschoolers, not traditionally schooled students.

  • The program has to be pulled by students, not pushed at them. It has to be volunteer based.
  • The traditional crutches of "grades" and "threat of public ridicule" are not going to work to motivate. However, certification of completion and documentation of final accomplishments are critical.
  • The program has to virtual, accessible to anyone with an Internet connection.
  • The program has to be flexible, allowing different students to move through at different paces.
  • The program will probably draw from a wide diversity of students, including geographically, age, prereqs, and skill sets.
  • Supplies, when non-virtual, will have to be distributed intelligently.
  • Coaches, mentors, and peers will all have to be better used than the role of teacher.
Programs developed for homeschoolers will eventually be able to be spun out to more children (a core premise of Unschooling Rules). But those programs that focus exclusively on homeschoolers initially will be better designed than those aimed initially for either a traditionally-schooled audience or even a mixed audience.

Schools have given generations of education innovators the license to "mean well," but fail. The advent of homeschooling puts new hope, and therefor new pressure, on organizations that want to really make a difference. Helping 5% of homeschoolers reach their dream and passion in the STEM areas is moral, efficient, scalable beyond the target audience eventually, economically critical, and (gasp) actually doable.

If you want to help traditional schools in two years, focus resources today on traditional schools. But if you want to help traditional schools in ten years, focus resources today on homeschoolers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Schools: From Stockholm Syndrome to Cruise Ship

Schools require compliant students. The worst case scenario for the best public and prep schools is a massive revolt of smart kids asking, "why are we being taught this curricula; what are the qualifications of the instructors or institutions to prepare us for the future; why are we being taught using books and term papers and tests?"

The traditional coercive tools for school are always a combination of carrots and sticks, promises of bright future for compliance and threats of public and total failure for resistance. Fair enough.

As a result, students often find themselves displaying signs of Stockholm Syndrome. This situation, when victims under the total control of a few people form sympathy with their captors, has been identified from studying hostage situations. But many students as well form a bond with teachers and institutions they feared, and who had similar (perceived but wielded) absolute control over their lives and futures.

We are all seeing the emergence of another sweeping approach used by the ranks of the industrial education complex - turning higher ed campuses into cruise ships. Universities are lavishing perks upon perks to the students, from swanky food and fashion outlets to high-end stadiums and other recreational areas.

This shameless pandering has two costs. The first is that the cost for students of colleges is spiralling beyond "out of control." The costs for tuition are simply catastrophic. Meanwhile alums are being asked to donate even more (with the fund raising processes monopolizing the mind share and creativity of school administers, just as it does with politicians). One friend of mine wrote a large check for his Alma mater, and then drove to campus in the middle of a giant freshman lobster bake.

The second problem with campus-as-cruise-ship is more subtle, but more problematic. Schools have always been out of touch with delivering skills that give students more control over their future lives. But the quasi-austere conditions at least created motivation for students to join the productive world. Now, students are shocked to learn that they are not just unqualified for most jobs, but the living conditions are a massive step down as well.

One result is that students are even more reluctant to leave their university country clubs. They become grad students, get their doctorates if they can afford to borrow the money, and then professors. And the great industrial education complex chugs on.

We as a nation are debating health care, as we should. But the failure of schools to produce students who have control of their lives and are decent stewards of their families, communities, and planet is a far bigger crisis with much larger consequences. And the recent strategy of higher ed, rather to reform the relevancy to instead pander and placate to students is completely the wrong direction.

A final note. The simulations and serious games movement continues to be pulled in two directions. One is "making content more fun" (gamification) and the other is "creating richer content." The first direction is currently a more popular perception, and highly aligned with the cruise ship model: "Let's learn history, but on the shuffleboard court!" The future of the movement, however, is in the second direction. This will take work and investment beyond putting up more plasma television sets in the student lounge. It means recommitting to a future of education.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

2011: The Year of the Visionless Revolution for Schools

"Don't just stand there. Do something."

That might just be the rallying cry for education change in the next 12 months. What exactly will be done, however, and why, is almost anyone's guess.

Through the rest of 2011 and through 2012, schools will be poked and prodded. Budgets will be cut, while more money will flow in. There will be rallies and protests and headlines and strikes. There will be greater calls for accountability, but no one will quite be sure towards what end.

Tests will play the role of hero and villain. So will teachers. And so will various school programs including art and sports. Unions will become more important pawns for both political sides, while the enabling behavior of the parents will go unquestioned.

The notion of forcing children to spend more time in classrooms will be realized as absurd. Yet it will be the solution from many.

Some will continue to loudly proclaim, "Schools don't work. We need to do more of it."

There has never been a time when more people want schools to change more. And I suspect at the end of the day, K-12 schools will end up relatively static throughout this period - unchanged in any real way. As with the temporary story arc in a television sitcom or drama, (a la "no child left behind") all changes will be Ozymandian.

In contrast, however, many, many colleges and universities may well be obliterated. And the cottage industries - the vendor market serving all of the above including text book makers- will find their core markets shrinking by 10% a year for now until, well, forever.

In this environment, I offer just three pieces of advice, summaries of the points I make in my book, Unschooling Rules.

  1. The school model of: dropping off children, assembling them into classrooms, and using lectures, tests, periods, papers, and grades, is fundamentally flawed, and will never work better than it does today. We have reached the relative apex of that model.
  2. We need to collectively do everything we can to un-standardize schools, break bottlenecks (such as college admissions processes), and reverse the lockstepping of age-based participation. The next stage of education evolution requires us to think about true diversity of educational experiences, not convergence. Having said that, I personally do not believe we as a nation have the imagination to currently visualize what a truly heterogeneous educational ecosystem might possibly look like (but again, Unschooling Rules is a place to start).
  3. Given one and two, the best thing we can do as a nation is to realize that more and more people will home- and un-school, and that is a good thing for everyone. Like some science fiction story playing out, the homeschooling movements in all of its forms will incubate the creativity of thinking and approaches necessary, eventually, to save all of schools.
This visionless revolution, like the mob that it is, is scary. It will lash out and find scape goats. It will prop up false prophets. I don't see any national leaders today.

Because there are no quick fixes. It is only through the real work of the people who care the most, under the radar of all of this bluster, that real change will be born to birth learning in the 21st Century.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

EcoKids' Yard Sale: Serious Game on Recycling and Negotiating

I came across this interesting "serious game," aimed at younger kids, called Yard Sale on Canada's eco-awareness site EcoKids.

The gameplay is straightforward (and with as many nods to capitalism and self-interest as environmentalism, for both sides of the aisle). The player is putting on a garage sale. After some exposition, the player first sets the prices, and then plays through a well done, fast market engagement activity to see if they can get that price.

What is so impressive about the game is that it is very easy to play, highlights a real process that kids can follow, and then allows participants to engage in some basic practicing of real skills that they will need. It is not an addicting game, but it, even better, transitions seamlessly to the real world. It looks straightforward and easy to design such content, but it represents a lot of sophisticated thinking.

Like it or not, media is the key to education that scales. This is a great role model of a necessary evolutionary path.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

What has Changed 05 - The Cost of Schools Continues to Rise Faster than Inflation

The costs of schools (at all levels) is rising faster than inflation and at a higher rate than the increase in household earning power. More and more of each national dollar earned is going into education. The curve of education spending parallels medical spending, for many of the same reasons. This is more salient at the university levels, where subsidies are considerably less than subsidies for K-12.

This has been true of the last 30 years, and will likely increase moving forward. The education-industrial complex will want to get the United States in a classroom-hours race with China or India.

But at some point, we as a nation will realize that we cannot afford the current trajectory, and we may not be able to sustain even the current level. Despite the rhetoric from those in the business, the relationship between classroom-hours and economic competitiveness does not rise indefinitely, but rather has a significant inflection point.

So while many parents are happy with today's schools (until they hit college), they will soon face a revolt of the taxpayer base or the need to reduce drags on the economy by various levels of governments.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Places to Learn - A Mini-Farm Stand By The Road to Earn Money

This stand, created and maintained by a homeschooler, teaches so much about economics.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Is there a culture of anti-parent discrimination among some professional teachers? Is that a problem?

When I am participating in round-table conversations with groups made up of people from the education industry, I am increasingly aware of anti-parent discrimination.

Specifically (and this is NOT scientific), comments that I would characterize as "anti-parent" seem to outnumber comments I would characterize as "pro-parent" by ten to one. These might include:
  • Parents don't understand the system.
  • Parents are too busy to help.
  • Parents are always late to meetings.
  • Parents are illiterate.
  • Parents don't do a good enough job at teaching kids how to behave and communicate in a classroom.
  • If parents spends five minutes helping with homework, they feel as if they have done their job.
Generic conversations often drift to tales of apocryphal parents acting highly neglectful or misdirected. These are told with a certain amount of relish and righteous indignation, even competitiveness.

Further, where parents are involved in school communication, it is always asynchronous (i.e. schools communicate to parents, schools ask parents to do something for the school, and schools provide access to course management data such as homework assignments) rather than synchronous (i.e. schools ask parents what approach to subjects their children might like, schools ask parents what kind of food they should emphasize in the cafeteria, schools ask parents about preferred bus routes).

And some schools offer programs for teachers to learn how to "deal with" parents.

Given all of that, might one formally ask is there an anti-parent discrimination in the culture of some professional teachers? And if so, is that a problem?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How would schools act if they were voracious corporations bent on unfettered monopolistic growth?

Here's a fun game to play. We all know that schools, unlike Wall Street banks, are organizations that are inherently benign, with loving teachers and caring administrators dedicated to selflessly making the world a better place by taking on the under-paid task of nurturing our children.

But what if, in some crazy parallel universe, the school sytems were instead voracious corporations bent on unfettered monopolistic growth? How would they behave?

Here is what you might see:

  • Schools would try to push more and more school hours.
  • They would use fear to convince everyone that their services were absolutely necessary.
  • They would advertise heavily to present themselves as local and caring.
  • Schools would try to get as much money as possible, using increasingly complex schemes and indirect charges to hide their true cost, and force as many people to pay even if they did not use the service.
  • New teachers, because they would not have career options, would be treated poorly (building deep resentment).
  • Schools would try to standardize as completely as possible the offerings. They would be inflexible in dealing with customers and the community. Students would be expected to change to meet the needs of the offering, as opposed to the other way around.
  • They would produce something that is both increasingly out of line with what customers actually wanted, and as complicated as possible.
  • Schools would have huge lobbying efforts to stave off regulation and to get more tax dollars.
  • They would consume an increasingly large share of a nation's GDP.
  • You would see schools using internal metrics to evaluate success that no one outside of the school cares about.
  • Schools primary functional goal would be to help children become better students (i.e. greater and lower cost consumers of education) and eventually teachers, not to help them outside of the school.
  • You would see bigger and bigger salaries for the people at the top.
  • Decisions would be made based on internal politics.
  • You would see larger and larger administrations - the middle layer that does not teach but that "manages."
  • They would truly believe their approach was the only approach.
  • Schools would seek to crush competition, such as vouchers and home-schooling. There would be increasingly powerful, legally enforced tools to penalize truancy and other anti-school behavior.
Well, thank goodness schools are not voracious corporations bent on unfettered monopolistic growth. Because that would be a huge problem.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Nothing Hurts the Assumption of College Usefulness More Than the Assumption of College Usefulness (#unrules49)

Unschooling Rules 49 (#unrules49) is, "College is the hardest no-win decision your family may ever make."

See all college posts here: and the posts around

John Stossel is adding to the debate, saying college a scam for many: http://video.foxbusiness.com/v/1032356599001/stossel-college-a-scam-for-many/, pointing to high drop out rates and useless curricula.

Another argument is even more simple: the cost of college has outpaced inflation for over thirty years, with no end in sight. Unless you believe that college is infinitely valuable, at some point, necessarily, the cost of college will be greater than what it delivers.

And as with so many school related problems, the wounds are self-inflicted, and often the result of inter-school arms-races. University A "has" to put plasma televisions in the student lounge because University B just did.

One technique to ignore the cost of college for a while has been debt financing. But now a story in the International Business Times has the appropriate headline "Student debt crisis threatens US economy." This shell game may be coming to an end.

Having said that, the value of college degrees are artificially propped up by discriminatory corporate hiring practices. Many of the best entry and even mid-level jobs assume a college degree, despite the dubious connection between the skills bestowed by many colleges and the skills required in the job itself.

If you believe the current situation is unsustainable, given these factors, what do you think will happen:

A) The U.S. government will finance more programs to allow students to pay back debt over longer and longer periods, covering up the problem for another generation?

B) Degree discrimination will become illegal as a hiring practice?

C) Colleges will control and lower costs on their own, as a result of ethics and/or competition?

See also:

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Unschooling Rules Speech Notes

I recently was asked to prepare a speech for Unschooling Rules. Here are what my initial notes looked like:

(Please excuse any typos!)

Friday, June 3, 2011

What has Changed 04 - The Rate of Change in the World is Much Greater than School's Ability to Adapt

For education to be relevant, it has to be somewhat connected to the productive world.
  1. Education has to prepare students for the current and future productive world.
  2. Education has to speak the language of current students (one has to pace before leading).
  3. Education has to use the tools currently available in the productive and recreational world.
  4. From both a cost and benefit perspective, Education has to be "worth it" to be sponsored by taxing the productive world.
We may have passed the point, however, where the rate of change in the marketplace, in children and other students, in the tools available, and even in the funding model from the productive world has passed the ability to schools to keep up.

The U.S. Military has a stark critique of themselves: "we train our soldiers for the last war, not the next." National education is worse, effectively preparing the children for jobs from the 1950's, maybe the 1940's.

If you believe that changes in the external world require changes in the educational system (and many do not), then the examination of schools ability to adapt can be done at an almost biological level. What are the sensors that detect change? What are the mechanisms that enact change?

Into this system, put:
  • Textbook publishing.
  • Government policies.
  • School boards and committees.
  • Funding mechanisms, including property taxes but also grants (such as the National Science Foundation).
  • Academic research processes.
  • Rate of hiring and firing of teachers.
  • Visions of how the world will be when the students graduate.
At best, the metronome of school change beats once a year. At worse, it takes a decade or even a generation to detect change and then to enact a proposed adaptation. As the rate of change increases faster than the rate of adaption, the relevancy gap increases. Which means we are already at a point where schools are archaic, or necessarily soon will be.

Unschooling Rules on Technology

I. Unschooling is infinitely more possible and arguably necessary because of today's existing technology and applications.

II. Further, a critical enabler to scaling these "Unschooling Rules" for a school environment is the creation of new applications possible but not yet accomplished using existing technology.

III. Finally, the goal of both camps has to be that the greater use of technology also opens up a greater use of authenticity.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Places to Learn: Maps and Timelines

Even in the era of Google Maps and iPads, large, high-res maps (we have the world and US) and timelines provide so much content for the browsing. For my son, the perfect scaffolding for all of US history was the lives of the Presidents.

What I look for when I judge Serious Games

Computer games have introduced a new grammar, totally foreign to those who have only focused on creating or studying books, movies, or traditional courses. Today, Serious Games can be used to develop conviction and competence, through the increased use of engagement, practice, emotion, and richer content. When I design or judge sims and other serious games, especially sims that are expected to be stand-alone, this is on what I focus.

A) Interactive World (30%)

From a design perspective, the highest level goal is to create and then present a small, self-contained simulation “world,” “environment,” or “content model” with appropriate rules, real-time rich interactivity, and visual and action based feedback. The player of the sim “learns” though practicing on and interacting with various subsections of this environment.

A Virtual World (from Theme Hospital)

This simulation world’s rules are framed by the learning objectives of the program. The creation of this simulation often requires novel and multi-layer visualizations and interfaces (although where computer games provide useful models, they should be adopted). These worlds may be abstract, or real world, or a combination of the two. When a player fails, the reasons for the failure have to be visualized and otherwise self-evident.

In theory, this interactive world can stand alone as a sufficient educational experience for the motivated student. However, other scaffolding increases the predictability and ease of the engagement.

B) Entice (5%)

Initially, the program actively helps the user understand and be excited about the sim engagement.

This may include a formal entice mode. Here, as in old coin-operated arcade games, the program will launch a short, non-interactive video style presentation that will expose users to basic rules, show some core interactions, and make the user excited about and comfortable with the upcoming experience. It is possible that some users will skip this content all together, while others will watch it two or three times to get a feel for the content before engaging.

C) Role of Coach (5%)

The Serious Game should use some type of “coach” framework. This provides a consistent voice throughout (all or most of) the sim.

This can include an explicit virtual coach. The “coach” avatar can be used to create a connection with the user by kicking off levels and concepts, providing debriefings, and giving tips and encouragement. Finally, the coach will present any pedagogically traditional content that will be used to augment the experience, such as bulleted summaries and diagrams of concepts. However, the best sims can predictably develop knowledge in players without explicitly teaching them anything.

This coach can be part of the story, or it can break the fourth wall.

An Example of a Coach Avatar

D) Level Components (5%)

Each level should begin with a briefing, and after the player engages the sim, end with a customized debriefing either explaining the success of failure. If the sim does not have discreet levels, a character or even note found can serve the same function more seamlessly.

E) First Level(s) (10%)

The player should be allowed to engage the interactive section as quickly as possible (i.e. there should be minimal required presentation-style content). The design goals of the first level(s), rather than highly instructional, are as follows:

1. The player has to get a general feeling for the interactivity.

2. A player can finish it quickly (in less than a few minutes), with experienced players finishing it more quickly than inexperienced players.

3. The directions and goals are unambiguous, with immediate feedback and a clear sense of success or failure. It should be set up through a brief cut scenes, and very high feedback, such as in-game tips/directions.

4. There is a reset button (to encourage exploration and reduce fear of failure).

5. There is room for some exploration, and/or promise of more interesting things to come. In fact, through the design and any instruction, players should be encouraged to simply exist in a safe, subsection of this world, exploring and testing the rules on their own. The world should feel like an open-ended sandbox. To accomplish this, players can either replay the first level as often as they want, or they can achieve the stated goal, but linger before they move on to the next level.

F) Small Challenges that Allow for Creativity (10%)

The sim, after the initial level(s), gives players small challenges in this world that can be solved using a variety of different techniques. (Minimize the use of single solution challenges.) Let players express themselves if possible. Open up the world a bit.

G) More Complicated Challenges (15%)

Then the sim should increase the depth and length of the challenges until they are more multi-faceted and elaborate. Make challenges harder, and also combine the application of various other skills. Challenges can be solved through a variety of approaches, not just one.

Imagine the skills within a player as a cone that gets bigger throughout the levels. (For example, each new level may bestow one new ability and add one new type of challenge, perhaps on a new map.)

The games can be synchronous, or the game can provide artifacts (such as screen shots of solutions, awards, or scores) that a student can share in a community.

The game may require stories for contexts. Easter eggs may be included to increase the value of community.

H) Replay with a Focus on Different Approaches to Win (5%)

Encourage players to replay the same levels over again, but try new approaches. Levels should be available for replaying after they have been won, and open-ended challenge levels should be available after the player is done with a story mode.

This may use explicit “trophies” or “achievements” to be given for the successful application of new approaches.

Examples of Achievements from the iPhone game Plants vs. Zombies.

I) Rigorous Assessment (15%)

Finally, present the player with rigorous challenges to solve. This part of the program may use a traditional presentation of material that lines up with the destination application, such as in a test or real world problem. This can serve to "prove" that the player has really learned something of value. Here, as well, there may be less ability for users to come up with unique solutions, and instead find the one correct answer.

These ideas have been taken from my (2.5 pound, almost 600 page) industry textbook: The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games - How the Most Valuable Content Will Be Created In the Age Beyond Gutenberg to Google (Wiley, 2009), as well as its companion book, Building Sims the Clark Aldrich Way, currently in draft version and available for free here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

InfoTrak: Clark Aldrich Interview on Unschooling Rules

InfoTrak: Unschooling Rules

Education reform expert Clark Aldrich, author of Unschooling Rules: 55 Ways to Unlearn What We Know About Schools and Rediscover Education explained why schools are very resistant to change and are stuck in 19th century modes of education. He talked about critical skills that are seldom taught in high schools and why he believes that testing and homework don’t work. He talked about the innovative methods of education he found among home schooling families, and how those principles could be applied to public school settings.