14.0016 play: educational software

From: Humanist Discussion Group (willard@lists.village.virginia.edu)
Date: Tue May 16 2000 - 19:28:18 CUT

  • Next message: Humanist Discussion Group: "14.0018 new on WWW: Subject Index on e-sources"

                    Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 16.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Tue, 16 May 2000 20:18:55 +0100
             From: Roger Blumberg <rbb@cs.brown.edu>
             Subject: Re: 13.0554 come out to play?

    Dear Willard,

    I have been meaning to respond to your posting of the 25th (Subject:
    games?), and the discussion that followed, but each reply has become
    a rather long essay. I teach the Educational Software Seminar at
    Brown University, a rather unique example of university-community
    collaboration in the area of technology because we begin not with
    university-designed products and priorities, but with proposals for
    classroom software from local (Providence, RI) teachers in K-12,
    the University, and other institutions concerned with education
    (e.g. the Providence Children's Museum).

    Each spring, the undergraduates in the Seminar choose projects
    from a pool of teacher proposals and, in teams of 3 or 4, work
    closely with the teacher and her/his students to create the proposed
    program. The Seminar is cross-listed in Computer Science and Education
    Departments at Brown, where it has been offered for nearly a decade
    (the brainchild of Andries van Dam you'll be pleased if hardly
    surprised to learn); but only recently have the number of computers
    in schools and the power of the authoring tools made diversity in
    proposed projects and versatility in program designs and strategies
    a reality. You can read about all the projects, and download many
    of the programs, at our web site: www.cs.brown.edu/courses/cs092/

    In the past three years we've taken on and completed nearly two
    dozen projects for K-16 classrooms, and about half of these programs
    have been designed as games. You ask:

    > (1) Can we reach the Sega-generation effectively through games?
    > If so, what is to be considered?

    The second is certainly the critical question, and we have found
    that the answers are not especially short! First, it is useful to
    note that in addition to games, the "Sega-generation" is an
    audience that makes simulations and multi-linear computer-based
    narratives educationally promising as well. But sticking to games
    for the moment, and taking just this semester's class as an example,
    the Seminar students have just completed games:

    -- to teach kindergarteners the concepts of area and perimeter
    (something recently mandated by the local Board of Ed.);
    -- to give a 3rd grade teacher a computer-based equivalent of
    a "Mad Math Minute" exercise, formerly done with pen and paper,
    that tests multiplication and division skills;
    -- to let 4th graders build 2D shapes and calculate their
    areas and perimeters; and
    -- to let ESL and Special Education high school students
    practice their punctuation, capitalization and verb
    conjugation skills.

    The Seminar students did not choose the game format for programs:

    -- to provide decision-making scenarios concerning drug use for
    9th grade Health students;
    -- to give undergraduates enrolled in a Visual Perception course
    interactive exercises for learning about depth cues, color
    perception and the perception of human motion; and,
    -- to give undergraduates enrolled in a political science
    course an opportunity to see annotated versions of political
    ads and to write annotations of their own.

    So what are some of the things we consider when deciding on a
    game format? Here are just three:

    1) Can the material covered, the skills being acquired and/or the
    exercises necessary to master the material/skills be made more
    engaging by introducing a game structure? This is a basic question
    but it leads one to see games as a useful tool not just in settings
    where a set of skills and facts can be given narrative cohesion
    and motivation (e.g. the Mad Math Minute), but in cases when the
    exercises that best help students learn these skills and facts
    are tainted by remedial or simply boring associations (e.g. the
    ESL and Special Education case, where rather elementary grammar
    exercises can be embedded in sophisticated multimedia narratives).

    2) Can the material covered stand up to the seductions of the game
    format, so that what is learned is the relevant material/skill
    rather than simply skills of game-playing (e.g. competition
    between students is usually both a motivation and a distraction).

    3) Can intrinsic motivation for learning the material/skills be
    created either in game characters and/or activities?

    Once one decides to create a game, there are of course questions
    about design and design "principles" (about which so much is written).
    Here we find (with Emerson) that "there is no virtue which is
    final; all are initial." Indeed, my students find that by designing
    effective programs for a particular teacher of a particular group
    of students in a particular school in a particular year: a) they
    become critical of any but the most grave and trivial ideas of
    universal usability principles; b) they appreciate the value of a
    learning curve in the engagement of users, and think twice before
    speaking of "intuitive" interfaces; and c) they see in practice the
    difference between using the computer to expand and enrich the
    experiences in classrooms and using it to (merely) replace or
    simulate traditional experiences.

    Clearly, there is much more to say, but the reason I bother you
    with any of it is the answer to your second question:

    > (2) Who is doing this already and doing it well?

    The answer is: not many and certainly too few. With the recent news
    that Mattel is selling off The Learning Company, having acquired it
    less than a year ago (after the Learning Company itself acquired
    a good number of promising educational software companies), we find
    remarkably little innovation in the field of educational software,
    and the fact that it is a marginalized area within university-level
    computer science doesn't help. But, now that powerful authoring tools
    (e.g. Macromedia's Director) and multimedia labs are becoming more
    common at colleges and universities, and are used as often by
    humanities as science students and faculties, I would suggest that
    there is a tremendous and perhaps unique opportunity now for
    humanities computing people and humanists generally to become
    involved in the production and study of educational software. I
    hope there will be opportunities to continue discussions, such as
    those provoked by your questions, in the Humanist community.



                              Roger B. Blumberg
                    phone:(401) 863-7619 fax:(401) 863-7657
        Visiting Lecturer, Department of Computer Science (Box 1910)
        Senior Fellow, Sheridan Center for Teaching & Learning (Box 1912)
        Visiting Scholar, Inst. for Brain & Neural Systems (Box 1843)
                  Brown University, Providence RI 02912
             MendelWeb http://www.netspace.org/MendelWeb/

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Tue May 16 2000 - 19:44:14 CUT