Archive for the ‘Simulations’ Category

A little delayed, but here are the two videos from the 2012 conference in Singapore. The first one is a panel discussion on how to monetize serious games where I flipped the discussion to “why monetize – what is the value that we are bringing to customers” instead.

The next one, is my pitch for standards in Serious Games and Simulations. The key argument is that standards are necessary for the industry as a whole and will bring efficiencies as well as increased customer satisfaction.

Presentation here:

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I had a good time at the Serious Gaming and Social Connect 2012 Conference organized by Christopher Ng and Ivan Boo in Singapore between Oct 4-6. Kudos to the organizers and their terrific effort at getting so many different stakeholders in one place. It was also great to have NASSG members Amruth (Vitabeans), Rajiv (Knolskape), Inder (Wisecells) and a bunch of people from India there. I presented a India Country Update as well.

There were quite a few takeaways for me.  There were a lot of different interpretations around definitions – Serious Games, Gamification, Simulations, AR Games, Virtual Worlds and Social Network based games (no mention of Alternate Reality Games).  These are different genres with different points of relevance.

The conference was not limited to use of these genres in education, but took wider perspectives from other industries such as healthcare and governance, although I have not seen genuine examples of serious games in healthcare and governance yet, and I believe that applications in healthcare and public safety often are mistaken for serious games, when in fact they should fall under the simulations genre.

I gradually realized that Singapore, really all of South East Asia, is really way ahead in terms of games. They are riding on the immense video game and entertainment industry in the region and game makers are slowly exploring the role of these technologies in K12 and Higher Education spaces. Governments also recognize the power of serious games, and edTech infrastructure in solving their educational needs. In fact, Singapore has a target to convert 20% of the curriculum using these approaches by 2015.

There were sessions and discussions around monetization and business models around serious games. In the panel I was on that discussed this issue, I flipped around the question of monetization, especially for the education space, and asked instead what could create value in the mind of the student and the teacher (which in turn will create value for the entire ecosystem). Turns out that it was not an easy question to answer!
We discussed standards as well, in that context and later (in my presentation).

My belief is that we are fast approaching a point where we need standards to be conceived of for this industry. There are obvious benefits (as are there obvious tensions) in this quest, but at some point there perhaps needs to be concerted efforts from a group of stakeholders across the world to put standards in design, development, use and marketing of serious games. Some participants discussed game abuse & psychological problems and suggested a separate rating/certification mechanism for educational games.

As we reach the next inflection point (the industry is already supposed to be USD 3 bn worldwide, some estimates put it at USD 10 bn), accompanying standards will make the key challenge of adoption more tractable and will provide an ecosystem in which production will thrive.

Perhaps even more interesting are initiatives to make game authoring accessible, in an open manner, to educators. Sid Jain from Playware Studios made an impressive case for this. Learning Analytics for games and adaptive learning through game technology also were part of the focus of some of the presenters. A lot of the work happening in the USA was presented by Aaron Walsh @ Immersive Education and Sue Bohle @ The Bohle Company who also leads the Serious Games Association in the USA, who are collating and publish a load of examples and research evidence about the benefits of these game genres.

India has to take a deep look at these genres (so does China, really). Recent experiences with people leading the edTech panels that advise policy makers (and the latter themselves) have shown to me the lack of awareness and appreciation of these genres. Without these, the nascent serious games space will not make much progress.

I came away with the belief that NASSG, the association we have formed for Simulations and Serious Games, has a responsibility and a pivotal role in making this happen. NASSG is now part of a council of South and South East Asian country representative that will contribute to greater collaboration and sharing between countries such as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Indonesia, Philippines, Taiwan, Singapore and India. There is also now an agenda to hold monthly meet ups across Indian cities and also to host the 2015 Serious Games Conference.

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Less than two weeks to go for EDGEX2012!

EDGEX is conceived as a platform that would connect people with different passions for education to come together. There are plenty of disruptive things happening in education around the world and EDGEX aims to kindle some conversations within and across learning communities – whether they be organized in some way or not. Most of all, EDGEX aims at breaking the silos that exist and aims to allow discovery of shared passions and goals.

I have already talked about the speakers that are joining us, and they need no introductions! Alec Couros, Alicia Sanchez and Jon Dron could not unfortunately join us this year, but, like with Etienne Wenger, we hope there will be an EDGEX2013 where they could join the conversation.

It is the speaker list from India and their enthusiasm that gets me really excited too. There is Sahana Chattopadhyay from ThoughtWorks, who I have frequently encountered over the social web, but only got a chance to touch base with recently. I look forward to her sharing her thoughts on Communities of Practice and Community Management, as well as her experiences working and interacting with people like Jay Cross. Freeman Murray, who set up Jaaga.in, a network led approach to support and facilitate social learning paths for students, is a great discovery because he adds that layer of implementation that will manage and massage the learning network.

So many entrepreneurs will converge at EDGEX2012 including Dheeraj Prasad, from BraveNewTalent, who is building a community based platform for skill development; Rajeev Pathak from eDreams and Venudhar Bhatt from Learning Revolution, who are engaged in making learning personalized and adaptive; Girish Gopalakrishnan, from inSIRcle and Satya Prakash Ganni (who could unfortunately not come this time), from LearnSocial who are both engaged in ideas that will make a real impact on social, adaptive learning environment; Jagdish Repaswal from Mangosense, who wants to using his vision for mobile and social learning applications, to redefine learning – all people with disruptive ideas and a burning passion to make an impact.

Jatinder Singh, from Atelier, is focused on scaling simulations to enterprises, perhaps national levels and beyond through a set of ideas around frameworks and low-cost delivery mechanisms. Siddharth Banerjee, from Indusgeeks, is a great champion of virtual world based learning and play paradigms. I have had the good fortune of connecting with Rajiv Jayaraman (who unfortunately could not make it to EDGEX this year) from KnolSkape, an exciting company that is focused strongly on simulations and serious games, and to Debabrata Bagchi (of Sparsha Learning) who has come out with simulation based products for the Higher Education space, Prasad Hassan from RightCareer with his vision of building innovative game based psychometric assessments for both urban and rural students; and with Amruth BR from VitaBeans who is taking his efforts at creating behavior profiles through gaming. I would have loved to have folks like Vraj Gokhlay from TIS and Madhumita Halder from MadRat to have also been able to attend. But this gives me hope that the simulation and serious games capabilities in India are growing and there are more entrepreneurs and sponsors willing to invest time, money and effort into raising the quality of education.

Manish Upadhyay from LIQVID, who has forever engaged in being passionate about learning and technology, brings with him his experiences of building mobile, tablet based education systems for the K12 space. Anirudh Phadke’s enthusiasm in building BeyondTeaching with the slogan No teacher left behind, is at once provocative, relevant and intriguing. Surbhi Bhagat and her passion to make an impact in rural education through UnivExcellence; Rajeevnath Viswanathan from EduAlert talking about his concept of an Inclusive Learning Graph; Rajat Soni, from Eduledge with his learning platform called Eruditio; Satish Sukumar (the technology man behind EduNxt, SMU’s digital learning platform) and Shanath Kumar (who heads eLearning at SMU and is the learning guru shaping the development of EduNxt); Rajeev Menon from MeritTrac, who is forever pushing the boundaries of product development in the Assessments space are all entrepreneurs and passionate people intent on creating disruption in the way we do things in education.

Of course, Madan Padaki, my co-conspirator in creating EDGEX and the man behind the largest assessments company in India, MeritTrac, will also present his work with Head Held High, an initiative to leverage the power of education to transform lives.

A special thanks to one of our other entrepreneurs, Piyush Agrawal, who leads Aurus Networks, who with great enthusiasm offered to webcast EDGEX2012 live (details will be on the website soon). Also to Bakary Singhateh, who is coming all the way from Gambia where he researches Connectivism! The Entrepreneur Showcase on Day One of the conference will also showcase students from Manipal University, as part of MU’s Technology Business Incubation division, where Amruth and I went to learn from students what they thought would be potentially disruptive.

With over 35 speakers, the Entrepreneur Showcase, workshops on networked based learning, mobility and serious games, and plenty of opportunities to network with a diverse set of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, investors, companies and other stakeholders, EDGEX is going to be fun!

Let’s disrupt!


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Over the next few weeks, as the countdown to the EDGEX Disruptive Educational Research conference to be held in New Delhi from March 12-14 begins, I hope to bring to you all news and updates about the conference and its themes.

The EDGEX 2012 Conference has been carefully and collaboratively constructed to bring cutting edge educational research to participants. There are two major themes – Learning X.O and Simulations & Serious Games. The Learning X.O theme essentially tries to synthesize the fairly amazing and disruptive research and experimentation around Connectivism, Informal Learning and Communities of Practice.

For something that I joined up in 2008 (with the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge [CCKO8] “course” led by George Siemens,Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier, featuring a unique open-ended format called the Massive Open Online Course – MOOC) to co-experiment with over 2000 people across the world, to have advanced so much and to have directly or indirectly inspired systems thinking on education (witness the Stanford AI “course” experiment and the recent announcement – MITx – by MIT) by traditional brick and mortar institutions, is no mean achievement over such a short period of time.

What makes Connectivism and all the associated themes so disruptive is just that – its potential to arm an entirely new generation of theorists, researchers and practitioners with the thought paradigm and tools to comprehend the impacts of disruptive technology, over abundant knowledge, demographic pressures and changing social relations among other important trends. Underlying it, in my own interpretation, is the tremendous principle of democratization – of education to be by, for and of the people. Though it is heavily steeped in technology, the essence of it is like “the principles behind the steam engine” as Stephen would say.

George and Stephen continue to raise the bar. Their continued work, and that of able partners and fellow researchers like Dave Cormier and Alec Couros, not only on the CCK MOOCs, but on various others, like the Critical Literacies MOOC, the EdFutures MOOC, Alec’s EC&I 831, the Change11 MOOC, the Learning Analytics and Knowledge Conference, Stephen’s technology development and many other initiatives, are inspiring thousands of educators worldwide.

Etienne Wenger, with his disruptive work on Communities of Practice, is one speaker who we shall miss terribly on this platform. We did not get his availability on the dates for the conference, and would have loved to have him, so as to, at least in my mind, complete the conversation. But I am fairly sure, his intellectual presence will be felt strongly through the themes of the conference.

Quick switch to Corporate Learning and the one name that immediately comes to mind is the person responsible for really starting it all – Jay Cross. In his work with the Internet Time Alliance, Jay, along with Clark Quinn (who we are honoured to host at the conference), Jane Hart, Harold Jarche, Charles Jennings and Paul Simbeck-Hampson, are redefining the boundaries of what learning can be. Their work on Learnscapes as learning ecosystems that promote complexity instead of eradicating it, is path breaking because it offers another way for us to think about how workplace learning can be transformed.

Even as this disruptive research and experimentation impacts our conception of how learning will be and how learning systems will be, the work of three of the expert researchers at EDGEX2012 – Grainne Conole, Jon Dron and Martin Weller – is of crucial significance. Grainne is researching ways in which new pedagogies and approaches to design can harness the potential of social and participatory media. Martin is investigating the implications of scholarship in a digital world. Jon is looking at learning environment design and investigating the “shapes of online socially enhanced dwellings that are most likely to lead to enhanced knowledge and, in the process, uncover some of the nature of technologies and our intimately connected cyborg relationships with them”.

Meanwhile, the other theme, Simulations and Serious Games, is really a veiled approach to unravelling how rich digital media and delivery platforms can combine to produce rich digital learning experiences. The work of Clark Quinn and Alicia Sanchez, and other speakers such as Sid Bannerjee and Jatinder Singh will lay the foundation for rethinking digital media. Clark, of course, brings in a much wider perspective – he is rethinking our conception of learning and systems for learning and is investigating models such as spaced practice, social learning, meta-learning, and distributed cognition.

Les Foltos brings in focus to teacher education and how educator communities can use peer coaching as a technique to continuously learn and evolve. Shanath Kumar, Satish Sukumar, Rajeev Menon, Manish Upadhyay and Amruth B R bring in yet more perspectives on design, content, new age assessments, semantic web, mobility and technology, thus rounding off this theme.

And this is not limited to Higher Education alone. The principles and precepts are fairly universal, although the practice and implementation will definitely vary between contexts. K12 educators will find a plethora of disruptive opportunities in the conference.

The conference has one other dimension worth noting. We are inviting startups and entrepreneurs who believe that they are contributing disruptive innovation to education. You will see some of these entrepreneurs showcase their ideas at the conference.

I am hoping this conference acts as the melting pot for disruptive research and practice and marks the start of new level of collaboration between participants.

In my mind, all this research is connected by one common theme – we are looking the ways to change the dominant paradigm, because the dominant paradigm will fail (and indeed, is failing) to achieve a vision of a meaningful and capable system of education in the face of the challenges we face today.

Particularly for countries like India, the timing of these disruptions could not be more apt. And this is where we hope your vision and expertise at the conference and around it, will pave the way for open and concerted dialogue on how we can embrace change in our society.

The website for the conference is up at http://www.edgex.in. The website features speaker bios and a set of resources to get started on the many topics that will be covered in this conference. You can also connect with us  prior to the conference through email or the links below.

Please do feel free to drop me a line at edgex2012@edgex.in if you are interested and I will get right back to you! We look forward to hearing from you!

Let’s disrupt!!

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It gives me great pleasure to announce a unique conference on educational research and innovation called EDGEX, to be held at the Habitat Centre, New Delhi from March 12-14, 2012.

The two main themes of the conference are:

  1. Learning X.O – marking the significant and ongoing developments in learning and teaching, particularly in informal learning, connectivism & connective knowledge, the MOOC, Learning Analytics & BIG data, Digital Scholarship, Peer Coaching and Open Distributed Design.
  2. Simulations & Serious Games – A focus on scale and both the philosophy and practice behind simulations, virtual worlds and serious games, clearly one of the most articulate and cogent responses to skill development and joyful learning in the recent times.

What makes the conference unique is the sheer intellectual capital that will be leading the conference. These speakers certainly do not need an introduction:

  • Jay Cross, Internet Time Alliance
  • George Siemens, University of Athabasca, Canada
  • Stephen Downes, National Research Council, Canada
  • Dave Cormier, University of Prince Edward Island, Canada
  • Alec Couros, University of Regina, Canada
  • Jon Dron, University of Athabasca, Canada
  • Grainne Conole, University of Leicester, UK
  • Martin Weller, Open University, UK
  • Clark Quinn, Quinnovation, USA
  • Alicia Sanchez, Defense Acquisition University, USA
  • Les Foltos, Peer-Ed, USA
It is perhaps rare to have these speakers under one roof and is a unique opportunity for the Indian audience, battling challenges of equity, excellence and expansion in the face of a huge and diverse scale. We are privileged to have them accept our invitation and we look forward to hosting them in India.

This conference is part of the EDGE Forum which is a group of leading educational institutions from public and private sector committed to promoting highest standards of education, value systems and governance in the field of higher education.

The EDGE conference, an anual event, addresses questions of improving the quality of education in several dimensions like education governance, human resource management, cutting-edge technologies, holistic approach to education infrastructure and above all adoption of best practices. It serves as an analytical and authoritative source for policy recommendations on higher education. The conference is well represented by reputed educationists, Higher Education administrators, teachers and high level policy makers, apart from representations from industry.

The EDGEX2012 conference site will shortly be live but if you are interested in attending, please do let me know through comments to this post.

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Clark Quinn pointed me to the work of David Williamson Shaffer and the work around Epistemic Games, the site provocatively taglined Building the Future of Education. Defined:

Epistemic games are computer games that can help players learn to think like engineers, urban planners, journalists, lawyers, and other innovative professionals, giving them the tools they need for a changing world. In epistemic games, players see what it is like to live in the world of adults. They learn ways of thinking that matter in the digital age, and have a chance to imagine the kind of person they might someday become.

David has an interesting presentation from the Design Education Seminar in Paris, France (June 2011) [slides, video, interview]. The first point he makes is about the Epistemic Frame. The Epistemic Frame comprises of:

  • Identity (the who)
  • Skills (the how)
  • Knowledge (the what)
  • Values (the why)

(italics added)

He also illustrates an important aspect of games – games as cultures and as environments for growth of innovation cultures. He also connects two “theories” – learning by knowing and learning by connecting.

It is an interesting level of detail for the commonly used word immersion. There is an epistemological and ontological base that designers can use to inform the design of the games they invent. Against the backdrop of the two theories and the epistemic frame, game design becomes a tool for mapping inter-relationships within the epistemic frame – literally describing a state of competence through conversation, game-play and learning. The epistemic frame poses the Values dimension, to me a critical aspect of immersion. In doing so, it focuses on a culture of thinking and innovation that is overwhelmingly important today.

In Use of a professional practice simulation in a first year Introduction to Engineering course, the authors state:

Importantly, engineering knowledge and skills are not required to complete the two design-build-test cycles in the simulation; instead the emphasis is on managing conflicting client requirements, making trade-offs in selecting a final design and justifying design choices….Prior work has also shown that epistemic games—learning environments where students gameplay to develop the epistemic frame of a profession—increase students’ understanding of and interest in the profession.

They explain the methodology behind the game, called Nephrotex, and include a blend of virtual with physical mentoring – something that they believe is critical to the simulation process. It also is a practitioner experience, giving what students will face in real life. In Collaborating in a Virtual Engineering Internship, the authors state that:

epistemic games are designed based on the epistemic frame hypothesis, a theory of learning that analyzes thinking in terms of connections among frame elements: skills, knowledge, values, and justification or decision-making (otherwise known as epistemology) of a STEM profession.

…Nephrotex is grounded in the epistemic frame hypothesis, which suggests that any professional community has a culture (Rohde & Shaffer, 2004; Shaffer, 2004a, 2005, 2006) and that culture has a grammar: a structure composed of skills (the things that members of the community do), knowledge (the understandings that members of the community share), values (the beliefs that members of the community hold), identity (the way that members of the community see themselves), and epistemology (the warrants that justify actions or claims as legitimate within the community). This collection of skills, knowledge, values, identity, and epistemology forms the epistemic frame of the community. The epistemic frame hypothesis suggests that (a) an epistemic frame binds together the skills, knowledge, values, identity, and epistemology that an individual takes on as a member of a community of practice; (b) such a frame is internalized through the training and induction processes by which an individual becomes a member of the community; and (c) once internalized, the epistemic frame of a community is used when an individual approaches a situation from the point of view (or in the role) of a member of the community (Shaffer, 2004a, 2005).

…Put in more concrete terms, engineers act like engineers, identify themselves as engineers, are interested in engineering, and know about physics, electricity, mechanics, chemistry, and other technical fields. These skills, affiliations, habits, and understandings are made possible by looking at the world in a particular way: by thinking like an engineer. The same is true for biologists but for different ways of thinking—and for mathematicians, computer scientists, science journalists, and so on, each with a different epistemic frame.

In David Hatfield’s dissertation, The right kind of telling: an analysis of feedback and learning in a journalism epistemic game, he states:

Epistemic frame theory (Shaffer, 2006, 2007) argues that expertise, such as the kind involved in complex thinking and problem solving, fundamentally involves diverse and dynamic connections between different forms of knowing (Broudy, 1977) and acting, guided by the norms and principles of a particular community….More than simply a collection of different elements, though, epistemic frame theory focuses on the ways in which specific frame elements are used together during complex thinking and problem solving (Shaffer, 2010).

The Critical Literacies MOOC focussed on just this kind of research a year ago from the point of analysis of thinking. Where it starts getting really interesting is here:

Epistemic frame theory thus argues that expertise can be modeled as a network of connections between specific understandings, techniques, values, identities and epistemologies, all of which are articulated through discourse. Assessing the development of such expertise, however, is a significant challenge.

I would add that fidelity of the simulation environment (level of immersion) becomes a significant challenge because it is itself a dynamic network of object and non-object states. In a lot of situations, as in regular eLearning, the struggle is between fidelity and scale (time to develop, cost, effort, complexity). At low scales, all experiences can have a high level of fidelity designed (witness the physical blend in Nephrotex). This can invert very quickly as we add additional variables and behaviors in the mix.

Be that as it may, this work is very useful because it leads us to the next question – how can these elements and their relationships be modeled to increase fidelity while at the same time lessen the impact of the scale of the challenge. Treating the elements of the epistemic frame as categories or clusters of child elements and then building networked relationships and “knowledge” out of these connections, is one part; modeling the dynamism is the much larger other.

In part (see Connectivist Simulations), I have always likened this to the challenge of sense-making and wayfinding in learning and knowledge (networks)  in Connectivism.

But what really got me excited is the possibility that all these ideas could probably merge if we started looking at simulations on a wider scale – connective simulations that could provide a way to abstract from the richness and complexity of our learning  process in a meaningful manner – allowing us to not only gain better insight about learning, but also to be able to guide our efforts to architect/enable observation based assessments.

The challenge, in my opinion, is also to prove that the new forms of assessment are scalable and accurate. That is, a large number of people can reliably be observed (or can demonstrate) “being” or “doing” in a manner that is reliable, accurate and consistent. The accuracy problem is important because simulations can only do so much in abstracting from a complex real-world.

If we had that method, and it was proved superior to traditional methods, then we would have buy-in. After all, the problem confronting us at this moment really is that we still end up trying to observe and assess people’s performance afresh whenever they start on a job, despite qualifications and proof from reliable assessments.

I just came across a load of search links to Connectionist Simulations, which is where all this is ultimately headed and should, at some point, capture my undivided attention. But this is wonderful work and I will follow it closely.

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I have been researching management of simulations and other complex entity based learning implements such as serious games. The challenge here is that the traditional SCORM/AICC paradigm allows limited reporting capabilities. Another challenge is storing state for later resumption (bookmarks) and the third challenge is to be able to set simulation parameters. Another related challenge is to “pool” the simulation experience for a multi-user synchronous or asynchronous simulation/game experience. Yet another challenge is to capture/record simulation experiences for later analysis, grading and feedback.

Clearly, this is an important area of focus. ADL, the keepers of SCORM, have developed an architecture called the High Level Architecture (HLA). Their research:

focuses on developing instructional paradigms, training-specific data structures and communication methods between a simulation, Shareable Content Object Reference Model (SCORM)-based instructional content, and a Learning Management System (LMS), to facilitate using simulation as an environment where an individual or a team can practice a skill (instruction) or demonstrate their level of performing the skill (performance assessment).

Of particular interest is the intersection between S1000D and SCORM. S1000D provides a mechanism to define complex systems having multiple inter-related components, and to define various allied information items thereof (like defining a plane or a ship or even a bicycle).

But of particular interest is the advancement of simulations for learning through research on adaptive simulations, social simulations (utilizing the power of the network – maybe to run alternate reality games) and other ways to raise the bar on what simulations can actually achieve. Let me know your thoughts!

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