# Gravity HD For The iPad⤴

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I have been talking about this game for quite a while both online and off line. It was the first game that I bought for my iPad some six month ago. It is a traditional ‘Physics’ type game with a really user friendly interface. The aim of the game is to get the marble or other object to hit the red button using the simple laws of gravity. Here is an example  (level 5):

As you can see, the red button is located at a height. When the marble is released, it falls from the port hole (top left) and drops down to the ground level where it pops off the ramp. Though it gains a little bit of height it is no where near the height of the red button. Therefore, the player must use some objects. The objects available in each level vary and can be seen at the top left of the screen. In this case, there are three long blocks. The player must arrange these blocks so that when the marble falls, it hits the objects which in turn hit the red button. Have a look at the next screen shot below:

Here you can see the blocks arranged. When the marble drops hopefully it will hit the blocks and as they collapse, they in turn will hit the red button. See next screen shot:

As you can see, the marble has hit the blocks and causing them to tumble and hit the red button meaning:

Each level varies in the number of objects, number of marbles and number of obstacles that must be passed in trying to hit the red button. It requires thought, skill and precision. I found this game particularly addictive but wasn’t sure why. This brings me back to thinking about last weeks reading. As Malone (1980) mentions edit in his paper-

What Makes Things Fun to Learn? Heuristics for Designing Instructional Computer Games

• “In order for a computer game to be challenging it must provide a goal whose attainment is uncertain
• In a sense, the very notion of “game” implies that there is an “object of the game”
• Uncertain outcome- A game is usually boring if the player is either certain to win or certain to loose.

Four ways to make the game uncertain:

1. Variable difficulty level

2. Multiple level goals (score keeping and speeded responses)

3. Hidden information

4. Randomness”

Thomas Malone (1980)

– All of which are prominent features of Gravity HD.

When I was teaching, my subject was Biology and Science. If I think about the Science curriculum (specifically Physics) I think that Gravity HD could be used to illustrate/enhance  learning in a number of ways. If we look at Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence: Science Experiences and Outcomes, we can see how a digital game such as Gravity HD may be used:

• “Through everyday experiences and play with a variety of toys and other objects I can recognise simple types of forces and describe their desired effect.
• By investigating forces on toys and other objects I can predict the effect on shape or motion of those objects”

As part of the Digital Games Based Learning course we have been asked to write a review of a game. I am considering using Gravity HD. I was  thinking about producing a small video clip of the game rather than use endless screen shots. Though I am still in the very early stages of my planning, I would welcome any thoughts from any teachers out there.

# DGBL: Notes From Week 3⤴

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MSc- Digital Games Based Learning

Both Malone papers provide excellent basic theories of Games Based Learning. Although written some thirty years ago, the principles remain the same for digital games today. This post is a summary of the mainpoints.

What Makes Things Fun to Learn? Heuristics for Designing Instructional Computer Games

Thomas Malone (1980)

• In order for a computer game to be challenging it must provide a goal whose attainment is uncertain
• In a sense, the very notion of “game” implies that there is an “object of the game”
• Uncertain outcome- A game is usually boring if the player is either certain to win or certain to loose.

Four ways to make the game uncertain:

1. Variable difficulty level

2. Multiple level goals (score keeping and speeded responses)

3. Hidden information

4. Randomness

• Extrinsic fantasies depend on whether or not the skill is used correctly (see diagram below)
• Intrinsic fantasies- not only does that fantasy depend on the skill, but the skill also depends on the fantasy(see diagram below)

Heuristics for Designing Enjoyable User Interfaces: Lessons from Computer Games

Thomas Malone (1981)

This paper largely focusses on what makes computer games fun (intrinsic motivation) and the systems behind the game.

• Game- Darts: diesigned to teach elementary students about fractions
• 8 differnet versions of the game to find out which features made the game enjoyable.

• Boys liked the fantasy of arrows popping ballons and girls appeared to dislike this fantasy
• Fantasies can be important in creating intrinsically motivating enviroments
• Implications for designing enjoyable user interface- the appeal of computer systems based on three categories: challenge, fantasy and curiosity (see below)

# DGBL: Notes from Week 1&2⤴

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MSc- Digital Games Based Learning

I thought I would use a post to list a few quotes from this week’s digital games based learning course readings. Hopefully they will be useful when I come to writing the synoptic paper

Greenfield (1984) This paper is somewhat dated. However it summarises the early research of video games. Many of it’s findings are still relevant today:

• “Video games have been dubbed the marriage between television and computers”
• “Popular arcade games involve tremendous amount of visual action, and is may be one source of their appeal”
• “Video Games are the first medium to combine dynamism with active participatory role for the child”
• “Another concern about video games is that they are merely sensorimotor games of eye-hand coordination and that they are therefore mindless”
• “The motivating features of video games are beginning to be put to more explicit educational use”

Kane (2005) A General Theory of Play. Considers all the dimensions of play.

Caillois (2001) Classification of Games

Newman (2004) What is a video game?

• “Elements of the video game table 2.1: Graphics, Sound, Interface, Gameplay and Story”
• “What a video game is not: a bunch of cool features, a lot of fancy Graphics, a series of challenging puzzles, an intriguing setting and story” (Rollings and Morris, 2000)
• Why do players play? “Rouse (2000) identifies a range of player motivations and expectations. Among them, three are particularly notable: Challenge, immersion and players expect to do, not to watch”.
• “Video games may be understood as a form of ‘embodiment experience”

# MSc: Digital Games Based Learning Unit⤴

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As part of my MSc in eLearning at Edinburgh University I am currently studying a unit on digital games based learning. Part of the course requires me to write a weblog (over 12 weeks). My university weblog has not attracted many comments recently so I thought I would open it up and re post some of my thoughts here for a wider audience. It is likely my next few posts will relate to digital games so please feel free to comment. Your thoughts and view are always appreciated!

Pacman

Pac-Man Screenshot (iPad) Photo Credit: tjmwatson (under CC)

Pac Man was a game that I was first introduced to as a child in the late 1980s. I can’t remember which computer I played the game on, but Amstrad springs to mind. The Pac-Man movements are controlled by the game player. The object of Pac-Man is to eat as many Pac-dots as you can without getting eaten by the different colored ghosts that roam around the pac maze. If you eat a large Pac-dot it will turn all the ghosts blue. When the ghosts are blue, you (Pac-Man) can in turn eat them. Fruit also appears at random points in the maze. If you eat these fruits you will gain more points.

I think this is a great little game for testing reaction time and small scale problem solving. However in terms of learning, I am not sure exactly what the player *is* learning? I guess there is a certain amount of physical finger coordination to be learned and perhaps the Thinking Correctly Under Pressure (TCUP) theory, but how could this be applied in another context? Perhaps when playing sport and choosing your tactics?

As Greenfield (1984) states video games are “merely sensory motor games of hand-eye coordination”; quite a sweeping statement but applicable in the context of Pac-Man and many of the basic games of the era. Other similar games of the 1980s that spring to mind Hungry Horrace (the first computer game I owned for the Commodore 64) and the Dizzy Game series (more in another post)

How things have changed with touch-screen technology and augmented reality just some of the things that I am looking forward to investigating further during this course

# The Importance of Corporate IT Procurment⤴

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I am now into the second semester of my MSc in eLearning. As I have mentioned before, I am writing a private weblog as part of the MSc assessment, so I thought it was about time i shared some of these thoughts here

Throughout this semester  I have found myself becoming involved in a number of discussions that involve technical issues. As you may know I am currently managing an elearning project in Scotland (eLATES: eLearning and Traveller Education). This involves working with Education Authority’s Corporate IT Departments. There are a lot of important considerations that must be made by those involved in the development, management and coordination of such a project or virtual learning environment. One of the most important considerations is that of the procurement process.

Most Schools throughout Scotland now have at least one computer with Internet access per classroom. Laptops are now more commonly used as oppose to desktops and this is increasing with the move towards One Laptop Per Child (OLPC). As part of the eLATES pilot, Education Authorities (EAs) are deploying hardware to mobile children and their families. Families will use the hardware (likely to be Laptops etc) to access school work via the Internet and the Glow portal (VLE).

Hardware is purchased by Education Authorities for use in and outwith schools and to the best of my knowledge this is a common process. EAs are required to purchase hardware through what is know as the procurement process. Council IT Departments have an agreed build and specification of hardware i.e. Laptops. This build may vary between Councils. They will also have an agreed user administration rights. When hardware is purchased through procurement the EA’s IT Department will ensure that the machines meet the agreed specification and this will also mean that user restrictions are in place. This is fundamental for the actual functioning of the machines and in the case of education, the health and safety of the children concerned and the accountabilty of the teacher.

Hardware that is purchased outwith the procurement process presents two main areas of concern:

• Support: If there are no restrictions on administration rights, the machines will be open to modification, alterations and viruses. This ultimately means that the machines are liable to breakage or malfunctioning. In this event, the machine would require some sort of maintenance. The problem then arises with who will be responsible for providing and carrying out this maintenance? It is the norm that machines not purchased via the EA procurement process are unlikely to be supported by EA IT Departments. This is because they are not insured or ‘covered’ as such to deal with non-uniform equipment.
• Internet Safety: When machines are purchased through procurement, restrictions are placed on what websites can be accessed. This is done using a firewall on the Internet connection. If machines are not supported by IT, it is likely that there will be no firewalls in place. This ultimately leaves youngsters vulnerable.

Though initially  bypassing the procurement process may be seen as a means of saving money, later complications would be inevitable.

Anyway, this was just a brief thought on one of the challenges I have faced recently.

I would welcome your thoughts and questions

Image by: Andrew* (under Creative Commons)

# TeachMeet hits its fourth birthday: Coming of Age⤴

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TeachMeet is entering its fifth year and the unconference for teachers, by teachers has helped hundreds – maybe thousands, in fact – to try out something new, alter the way they already teach and learn, join a community of innovative educators or completely transform their way of working.

The hope was that the model would spread. It has, but as those who have created and helped pull TeachMeet together over the past four years, we want to see it spread further, deeper and with increasing quality of input from practitioners. This post outlines how we think we might manage this. This is the beginnings of a conversation with those who care about TeachMeet. Add your views in the form of any blog post or comment or tweet – tag it #tmfuture

What are the goals of TeachMeet?
TeachMeet was originally designed to:

• Take thinking away from the formal, often commercialised conference floor, and provide a safe place for anyone to pitch their practice
• Provide a forum for more teachers to talk about real learning happening in real places, than one-hour conference seminar slots allow
• Showcase emerging practice that we could all aim to undertake; sales pitches not allowed
• Be all about the Teach, with only a nod towards tech that paved the way for new practice.
• Provoke new ways of sharing our stories: PowerPoint was banned. We wanted people to tell stories in ways that challenged them, and the audience
• Empower the audience to critique, ask questions and probe, all online, through SMS or, later, Twitter.

Over the years, these ‘rules’ have altered, leading to some great innovations, others less so. The answer to “What is a TeachMeet?” has become a myriad of meanings, some pretty far off the original goals. We need to help and support people to organise, run and contribute to events that build on previous ones. We need to make TeachMeet as accessible to newbies as it was in 2005. We need TeachMeet to once more find its focus.

Supporting the “infectiousness” of TeachMeets
Organising TeachMeets should not be easy. Taking part in them should be. But more support is needed for organisers:

• Sponsorship is hard if there’s no bank account into which funds can be sent
• Without sponsorship, any event over 30 people becomes tricky to organise while also giving people a special night of learning, the time, space and mood that gets people over their self-conscious selves
• Paying for refreshments and venues is impossible if there’s no organisation to pay them the precise sum.
• The best TeachMeets provide social space, social activity, entertaining MCs, good refreshments, good online coverage and some form of online ‘conclusion’ – this needs coordinating by the organiser(s), but it’s not a skill everyone will have the first time around.

We’ve got a superb opportunity to curate the best bits from all these TeachMeets that are happening weekly – this needs a degree of oversight.

A means to make TeachMeet more sustainable, easier to use for sponsors and organisers, and have the ability to do something spectacular
TeachMeet is owned by the community that shape it – but there needs to be a body to manage sponsorship and sponsors, and provide support for new organisers so that they maintain the TeachMeet goals. We assume that if someone is organising a ‘TeachMeet’ they would like to emulate the success of those popular early TeachMeets, and better-supported national conference ones (e.g. SLF and BETT).

What would support from the TeachMeet body look like?

• Seeking of sponsorship all year round – including ways and means to get your message to as many teachers as possible
• Brokerage of sponsorship – i.e. one place sponsors and those seeking sponsorship can come together, in a transparent manner
• Recommendation of onsite support (good venues at discounted rates/free, A/V, event organisation [for bigger venues], catering etc)
• Suggestions for various formats that have worked in the past
• Mentoring from previous TeachMeet leaders including on-the-night help
• Featuring of content and promotion of the event in a timely manner on an aggregated, higher profile TeachMeet site
• A group calendar so that events can be seen by geography and date
• Promotion of TeachMeet through international and national events, using contacts of existing TeachMeeters
• In-event publicity (e.g. if you plan an event at a regional ICT day or national event, then we can help broker paper materials for insertion into packs etc)

But, above all, TeachMeet is reaching a point of saturation in the UK – things are going really well in terms of enthusing teachers about their own learning. We have a great opportunity to carry over a small proportion of the sponsorship and contributions towards creating a TeachMeet culture in countries where teacher professional development in this way is still blocked by barriers physical, financial or cultural. This is just one idea, harboured for a long time but unable to realise in the current setup.

This body can take the form of:

• A Limited company (with a Director and shareholders)
• A Charitable Limited Company, with a board of directors and voting rights for fellow ‘shareholders’ (we could work out some way of people being ‘awarded’ shares based on [non-financial] involvement?)
• A Social Enterprise, perhaps formed as a Limited Company (see more information on what this means and how it might work (pdf))
• A Charity (this feels like a lot more red tape to pull through and perhaps not entirely necessary)

As we take things forward we invite you to contribute your ideas and thoughts to make things work smoothly. We want you to comment, probe and make your own suggestions before the end of June, using the tag #tmfuture

# I Lost My Web-logging Voice…⤴

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It has been a while and the last year has been a very busy one for me personally.

For the last six months I have been studying a part-time MSc in eLearning with the University of Edinburgh. As part of the course students are required to write a private web-log. Following a recent conversation with my tutor, I thought it worthwhile to note a few thoughts on my own personal history of weblogging and share them openly here too.

I started my professional weblog in October 2006. At that point in time I was piloting the Scottish Schools Digital Network, Glow. I was doing this with my Intermediate 1 biology class. Throughout the nine-month pilot I used my weblog to share my thoughts and experiences with fellow educators globally. My posts offered a window on to what this revolutionary new learning environment could offer teachers and learners. My posts would often include screen shots and hyperlinks that would allow my readers to gain an excellent insight. During this period of time my weblog became a source  of feedback to educators and Learning and Teaching Scotland. It had an important purpose. Following the pilot of Glow I continued to share relevant information via my weblog. In October 2008 I was appointed as an Education Support Officer for ICT in east Lothian. During my time in this role I would share my thoughts on my daily work with colleagues, pupils and establishments. In the context of teaching and learning I would regularly discuss topics such as current projects in East Lothian, hardware, software and web 2.0 media.

Along side my weblog I also held a Flickr Pro account. Flickr allowed me to catalogue educational images under Creative Commons (i.e. images that could be used by fellow educators that were free of copy right or Intellectual Property Rights IPR).

During the last year my professional weblog has somewhat ‘dried up’. Though this saddens me slightly, I feel that it has somewhat lost its purpose. When I was actively blogging I was reporting and sharing information on groundbreaking movements in education. People wanted to read what I had to write. With the explosion of professional teacher blogs and the growth of Twitter I feel that I have lost my blogging voice. I feel that there are now others out there who are in a better position to broadcast. I have become a reader of blogs rather than a contributor. I could share thoughts on Twitter and other web 2.0 technologies but I feel it has already been done (more than once). Colleagues who were once blogger associates have largely become friends over the last three years and I feel I would probably be somewhat ridiculed if I started to ‘knatter’. In addition, at present, I am not teaching. I am project managing. I am thoroughly enjoying my new job and the challenges it brings however I choose not to share my thoughts and reflections here. I am also (as you may have guessed) very pushed for time in my new role. I find my spare time is better spent reading relevant blogs rather than writing.

For me a weblog has to have purpose. I am in no doubt that one day my professional weblog will gain its purpose again and I will start singing with my blogging voice  soon.

I might share some of my MSc private blog posts once they have been marked

Photo Credit: http: hiddedevries

*Under Creative Commons (CC)

# New Themes for Glow!⤴

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For those of you not on Twitter, you may be interested to see some new themes for Glow. Click here and pop over to the Glow blog to give your vote

Option 13 is currently my favourite- Pink all the way

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I hope you are all enjoying a well earned summer break.

If you are in Edinburgh next week you might want to consider joining me at LeadMeet 2009 on the evening of Wednesday 29th of July in the Highland Suite, Carlton Hotel.

## What is TeachMeet?

“LeadMeet is a variation on the now tried and trusted TeachMeet format. This time we are concentrating on educational leadership.