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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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My talk at EDGE2011 in Delhi was part of a panel that was presenting different thoughts on cutting edge developments in Assessments. I specifically focused on the tracking data, metrics and corresponding analytics that could be found by using games and simulations (or blends of the two).

When I talk of Games and Simulations, I typically classify and differentiate between various types in the following sense.

For me, leaving aside gaming for entertainment genres, games and simulations are a rich source of tracking virtually any kind of learning activity, experiential or intellectual. Some domains may be extremely abstract, of course, and not lend themselves to any clear ways of assessing learning. There is also the argument that games may not lend themselves to clear linkages with performance on the job. But, in essence, games and simulations allow learning and assessment solution designers to build rich reflective environments from which we can make informed judgments of performance.

For simulations and games, as also for Alternate Reality Games, the real complexity is in the design of the environment – the complex of objects and their changing relationships with each other – which by itself is also a dynamic emergent phenomenon. Take for example this hospital simulation developed by Indusgeeks and IIL.

This simulation is built up upon a complex environment of objects and their relationships within the added affordances of a Virtual World environment. There are some key advantages of these types of simulations.

Firstly, since the platform is that of a virtual world, players can visually observe the behaviour of other participants in the same scene. This lends itself to a way in which player behavior can be assessed and feedback provided. This is critical to solve many infrastructural challenges. LABs are expensive to build and maintain in a physical world and there are space-time limits to intervention by teachers. In a virtual world, actions can be recorded – thereby not only breaking the time challenge, but also by enhancing the teacher’s ability to capture and display best practices. Not only that, it allows teachers to personalize feedback by being part, directly or indirectly, of multiple virtual spaces concurrently. Imagine having a set of consoles at the command of a teacher – each monitoring a specific LAB – that would show indicators when a student is stuck or making a serious mistake!

Secondly, the scenario can be manufactured. Often, scenarios can be constructed that are difficult to replicate in real life. But artificially manufactured scenarios, provided they are sufficiently hi-fidelity, can provide an intense learning/assessment experience. By virtue of this manufacturing activity, the domain knowledge is exposed in a substantial manner, thereby supervening the need for elaborate teaching artifacts and curricular structures.

Thirdly, by being visually (and otherwise) immersive, these types of simulations provide a first-hand account of future real life experiences. This gives much more comfort than traditional assessments, specially to the potential employer, because she knows the learner has experienced the job situation even before she has been hired.

Fourthly, simulations lend themselves to new forms of collaborative construction. For example, we built a prototype with Indusgeeks, that showcased how virtual props could be used in SecondLife ( a virtual world platform) so learners could collaborate and perform.

Students building a model of a network

Fifthly, the environment can throw up rich data sets for subsequent analysis. Not only can we track behavior, but also compliance, knowledge, collaboration skills and a host of other competencies. Not only can we do it for one learner, we can do it across learners. We don’t any longer need to build top and bottom performer reports, but we can get insight that is far more fine-grained than that. This allows us to design various means of remediation as well by seeding simulators with specific conditions to train and test learners on.

In summary, simulation based training and simulation based assessments, are both key innovations, that must be broad-based into education. This has the power to transcend traditional curricula and assessment structures if used in a relevant and maximally effective way.

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Almost every kind of IT has a potential impact on education. If you look at the various dimensions that constitute mainstream adoption, you want to look at the fit to the educational need, the capability of the audience to consume it, the access and availability of both platform and content, supporting infrastructure required and of course the cost & scalability factors.

Most forms of IT interventions in elearning, I always say, fail due to the death by technology syndrome i.e. an overwhelming emphasis on technology and delivery. I would place many forms and methods of generating elearning content, especially the same umbrella term of technology.

We know that the space has potential, but the problems we face with traditional elearning and elearning technology such as the ability to personalize learning, to make it experiential & engaging and to demonstrate a return on investment, get a little more complex as we look at 3D immersive technology and we must build solutions keeping this in mind.

So firstly we need to focus on the learning needs. India is uniquely positioned because we have the youngest population. We must ask ourselves what will our needs be and thus our expectations be from the workforce in the next few years and work towards aligning all efforts in that direction. That direction must also be inclusive and equitable, and this is critical for us.

Then the way our young population has embraced the changes in the global workplace, and especially in the next generation Internet based technologies/movements like social networking, open source collaboration and mobility, needs to be leveraged as a 21st century skill, the way other countries are doing in a concerted manner.

Then we need to ask what kinds of segments we can address with which solution. For example, 3D immersive technology is a no-brainer for vocational training, manufacturing, technical training on hardware, product marketing, brand presence, eCommerce, generic collaboration etc. In the K12 segment, there are a host of possibilities such as for discovery-based learning, virtual laboratories, educational games and simulations that can make the experience come alive for our children. This technology is appealing because it is based in a visually immersive setting, like the world around us, and therefore lends itself to collaboration, discovery, exploration, problem solving, critical thinking and many other key learning dimensions.

We must then build capability with teachers and educationists to navigate these possible solutions. Traditional assessment solutions also need to be reworked in the context of the rich feedback that some of these solutions can provide on student activity and competency.

Creative content is then going to be an important part of the solutions we create. In my opinion, technology solutions that offer easy and cost effective ways to generate 3D based learning solutions will be critical in this space.

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Data visualization in 2D is what we have done most of our lives. Till recently, I viewed 3D as a medium for understanding and manipulating complex structures (say molecules, genes, architectural maps etc) both for academic and commercial use. With mashups, came the concept that you could intermix n-dimensional data (like OLAP) in a Web 2.0 environment. IBM’s ManyEyes uses this data to create 2D and 3D chart visualizations.

However, 3D visualization common use application still eludes me. I remember, as far as 10-12 years back, someone talked to me about “walking” into an Oracle database as an administrator and using hands to reorganize tablespaces, compress them and many other administrative actions. Years later, I watched Michael Douglas in Disclosure moving around a 3D file system and Tom Cruise and team waving life-videos and geo-spatial data on screens looking like a sheet of glass (I think it was in Minority Report).

Now Green Phosphor has come out with 3D technology based on the Content Injection and Control Protocol (CICP), sort of a “http for virtual worlds“, that merges excel data or database query outputs with 3D representations in a virtual world.

But I still struggle with possible applications. My friend Sid, at Indusgeeks, and his wonderful team, are looking at immersive and interactive 3D learning spaces for learning and collaboration.

What makes sense for me is not “representational” 3D (i.e. 3D visualization that depicts n-dimensional data visually), but “meaningful, context driven” 3D. For example, real time data about movement of whales in the oceans could be merged with a virtual ocean world where students could come and explore, replete with ocean and whale sounds, measurement techniques and tools etc. Or for that matter, a data center created on the fly for practice on measurements of power and cooling, from data that represents servers, power units, HVACs etc. These systems mirror real-life in ways that can go beyond the real life experience (e.g. walk inside a server or inside an artery). But they are also limited by the amount of kinesthetic immersion they can supply.

What is also interesting now is the availability of mobile phones with graphics accelerator cards built in. Imagine having a virtual world experience on your mobile phone. Look at Imageon. In fact, technologies are emerging today that allow you to use your mobile phone to click an image and have a backend system process indexed image (and possibly video) databases to return to you information related to that image. Imagine never having to be lost again or to click a product picture in a electronics store and get all the information and reviews related to that item.

In 3D terms, imagine being in a virtual world that reconstructs the actual background environment that each participant is coming from – one driving his car while in the conference, the other in her office, the third on the field at the scene of action, each being able to access and share information.

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