Sunday, June 12, 2011
I have wrestled with the affordances and limitations of books. Books are spectacularly easy to create using today's tools (i.e. a word processor, a digital camera, a drawing program) and easy to share. It is also a piece of media with which we have all grown up - we know how to engage them.
Most Books are Directive
But books are, from a leadership perspective, typically directive. One is taken lock-step on the author's path. Books are, for the reader, passive. You can keep turning the pages, and you will reach the end. I walk away from directive speakers and writers with three sensations 1) I believe the writer or speaker is much smarter and more accomplished than I am, 2) I really don't know what he or she is saying most of the time, despite (or because of) all of the references made and jargon used, and 3) I have a vague feeling of depression and angst.
Even wonderful stories that are emotionally invigorating to consume can be frustrating to transfer to make one's own life better.
Can Books be Collaborative?
I attempted to write my last two books, The Complete Guide to Simulations and Serious Games, and Unschooling Rules, using a collaborative leadership style rather than directive. (See my entry here about leadership styles.) The two books, superficially, look very different. The Complete Guide weighs two and half pounds and Unschooling Rules is just 8 ounces.
|Many of my books have tried to challenge the traditional 'directive' affordance.|
The Reader Controls the Flow
But both books are made up of independent entries. You can read both by opening to a random page and digging in. If you are intrigued by what you have read, you can bounce around in short hops, to nearby entries. If you want something completely different, you can move farther away in the book to new grounds. The reader has responsibility for his or her own journey, and I, as the author, have the responsibility to make that journey productive and worthwhile. Writing was more like laying out a city than constructing a strong story (Simulations and the Future of Learning, in contrast, was written as a first person narrative with story arcs, frustration and resolution pairs, and character development.)
The Star of the Book is the Reader, not the Author
Ultimately, though, the books are very different. True, Unschooling Rules can be read from front to back, while The Complete Guide is almost impossible. But more so, Unschooling Rules does not give the readers easy answers. (Well, it gives some easy answers and low-hanging fruit, but not too many!) It is not a comprehensive reference. Instead, it truly is (and necessarily so to be effective) collaborative with the reader. It leaves the reader invigorated, frustrated, but better positioned to create their own solutions. My goal is to reduce the number of false paths taken, call out some absurd assumptions made today regarding education and schools that get in the way, prod and inspires with fresh perspectives, take away some doubt, provide some places to start, and encourage action, but I do not take away the responsibility of the reader to create, implement, and ultimately own their comprehensive solution. I am there to help. The reader is the star, not I.
Are there Perfect Rules to Create Inevitability in Education?
The culture of all academics seeks to emulate the rigors of science, such as physics (see the impact of learning theories on National Science Foundation grants); the culture of government is to create a comprehensive set of rules to eliminate the need for judgement in employees. Even the culture of the Quality movement in corporations feeds this philosophy, with deviations from norms (i.e. students' different capabilities, backgrounds, or home environments) seen as problems to be eliminated. As a result, much research into school reforms wants to find the underlying rules and processes that, when executed exactly as prescribed (including normalizing children into students), creates inevitable success. (No wonder it is easy to predict The Gates Foundation will fail on its current path.) This approach is of no surprise given that school cultures also tend to paint parents as either drug addicts or workaholics who need to be managed and overcome, and teachers and students as slackers that need to be threatened to keep from goofing off.
A Compass, not a Map
Unschooling Rules is, of course, starts from a different place. It is a compass not a map. It tries to match technique with message. If someone wants to kick back and read a satisfying story, a devastating and irrefutable critique, or wants an exact solution to the problem to criticize or implement as they might a recipe for custard, this is not the right book. Rather, if readers wants to take ownership for the problem either individually or as a community (including a few easy wins to start the ball rolling), Unschooling Rules will be a great companion.
Friday, June 3, 2011
What has Changed 04 - The Rate of Change in the World is Much Greater than School's Ability to Adapt
- Education has to prepare students for the current and future productive world.
- Education has to speak the language of current students (one has to pace before leading).
- Education has to use the tools currently available in the productive and recreational world.
- From both a cost and benefit perspective, Education has to be "worth it" to be sponsored by taxing the productive world.
- 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.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
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.
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.
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.
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.