Friday, November 26, 2004

From E-learning To Serious Games To… Augmented Reality? 

I’ve been playing with concepts around the Serious Games theme for some time now. My wife, Natacha Bosse-Simard, is currently writing what I think is a groundbreaking paper on how to use Augmented Reality for learning purposes. Talking to her about the subject is giving me a lot to think about. My thoughts are still chaotic so I’ll try to bring some order in the house by writing down my main reflections. I believe that Serious Games (or games for learning?) are the next big step in the learning evolution process and that Augmented Reality will one day change the way we interact with our environment by bridging gaming to what we call reality.

Some random thoughts:

·E-learning is slowly dying, or at least e-learning in its current form. Traditional e-learning’s focus on content has proven to be a rather weak approach. Failures are leading us to put emphasis on collaboration, and rightly so.

·Collaboration, the way we experience it in even the most collaborative e-learning initiatives, is very limited in that in most cases it happens through written communication or, when lucky, with videoconferencing.

·Richer environments allowing people to interact at a deeper emotional level with both so-called “content” and with others are needed, which explains the current hype around serious games and simulation.

·I suspect that in a number of years we will criticize serious games because of their lack of roots in the physical world (I use physical world as opposed to reality that is only a personal interpretation of personal perceptions, everyone has his/her own personal reality). Virtuality leads to an inevitable delay between learning and influencing the physical world.

·The need to better link gaming with reality will push forward a concept that is already the subject of early work: augmented reality

The distinction between reality and virtuality is seen in Milgram’s continuum as the level of augmentation that we apply to reality. If that augmentation happens on demand, in real time, then we create an altered reality where knowledge is created on-the-fly according to a very precise context.

Just imagine the potential…
A worker facing a difficult task (plan a marketing strategy for a new service for example), would be offered advices by “mentors”, be it real people or agents, would be presented all relevant information, and would in fact learn by doing it for real with all the necessary support and collaboration. This individual would be learning the way humans have traditionally been learning, by doing it for real.

In my example, I used a single individual within a defined concept. What if we extend the concept to a large group of people across various settings that see their lives “augmented” by learning, knowledge and collaboration?

Humans have always been augmenting their realities in some way. People stop at a red light when they’re driving even if we could well drive cars without having red lights. What makes the red light “real”? The fact that it’s made of matter? No, just the fact that it is something that we accept and recognize as being part of our reality. Virtuality and gaming might become quite real one day… Or maybe I’m just drinking too much green tea.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

CIT – Low Budget Interactive Learning Objects 

I don’t like to comment on low-level presentations but I’ll do it this time because a comment made by one of the presenters really struck me. I felt like being back in the 90s: the key to e-learning is to turn every faculty member into an independent producer!?!

Hey! That doesn’t work. If you just want to create low-level static html pages it’ll work. If you want to do high-quality learning experiences you need a lot of very specific and deep expertise. Just let faculty members do what they are good at: design learning experiences and mentor learners. The remaining has to be assigned to people who know (and like) what they are doing, be it multimedia design, project management or linguistic revision.

Are car owners building their cars on their own in their backyards? No, unless it’s for fun. It is much more efficient in terms of quality and cost to “outsource” the job to a very large number of highly specialized workers. The same principle is also true with e-learning.

CIT – Carole Twigg 

Carole Twigg’s keynote speech Improving Learning and Reducing Costs: New Models for Online Learning certainly grabbed my attention as doing better and more with less is essentially what everybody is trying to do with IT in education.

Carole first started by refuting some common assumptions about technology, which I found very appropriate as I deal with a lot of people who have those beliefs:
· Improving quality does not necessarily equals increasing costs
· IT does not necessarily increase costs
· Technology-delivered learning does not necessarily threaten quality

Then Carole stated that the biggest obstacle to innovation is thinking that it can be done the old way. She cited the famous example of the Pony Express that reacted to the invention of the telegraph by hiring better riders and buying better horses while their business model had in fact been rendered obsolete by technology. Another example she gave is the ATM, which was initially used in… banks. The real revolution came when ATM were put in malls, bars and other public buildings.

So, following Carole’s idea, the real gains of IT will be reached when we stop doing things the old-fashioned way with it. Not a new message but always a relevant one. Here’s what she proposes:
· Redesign the course, not the class
· Replace single-mode instruction with differentiated personnel
· Rely heavily on existing software; independently or in teams
· Create small within large (customization)
· Use a CMS for monitoring
· Assess all the time
· Emphasize active learning
· Provide 24X7 access to resources
· Increase on-demand, individualized assistance
· Automate what can benefit from it

Her redesign models:
· Supplemental (soft change)
· Replacement (blended learning)
· Emporium (move all classes to a lab setting)
· Fully online
· Buffet (customization of learning, refers a lot to O’Banion’s Learning College)

Not bad stuff. However, to talk about redesigning courses and programs seems a lot like putting ATM in banks to me…

CIT – League for Innovation in Community Colleges Coverage 

I’ve been in Tampa for 3 days now attending the Conference on Information Technology of the League for Innovation in Community Colleges. I had high expectations before getting here as the conference had been warmly recommended to me by a number of people.

Well, so far it’s been quite disappointing. The level is just not there. It’s not that the subjects are bad or not interesting to me. In fact there is always something like 20 sessions running at the same time so I have been able to always choose subjects that really interest me. The problem is that my enthusiasm falls flat after 10 minutes. Most presentations just represent old, if not outdated, concepts. When one of the most interesting presentations is Jeb Bush’s, to which I reluctantly attended (especially with the sun shinning outside), you can tell that there’s a problem.

Anyhow, my next posts are my coverage of some presentations that still deserve that I write something about them.

By the way, the weather has been great…

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Price of Having Ideas 

James Farmer's post depicts quite well a common ethical dilemma in organizations. Does one have the right and responsibility of proposing a good idea, even if it goes against the views of some direct managers.

My comment to James' post:

Hello James,
I can strongly relate to what you’re describing as I am an internal e-learning consultant working for a community college.

First, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with expressing an idea with the goal of improving the e-learning processes in place. Your idea may be rejected, but proposing it shouldn’t be seen as threatening. I believe that your employer (the university) is probably comfortable with this. Tell me if I’m wrong but I think that the manager you are refering to is the person who selected or is in charge of the LMS. If your suggestion wasn’t pinpointing a critical weakness, the director wouldn’t have told you anything about it. You can see the aggressive reaction as an acknowledgement of the relevance of what you’re proposing.

Disciplinary action? I don’t think so. Who would lose the most form it? A dedicated employee working towards better quality or a manager trying to hide the weaknesses of a system under his/her responsibility?

Please keep going.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

2004 Conference on Information Technology - League for Innovation In Community Colleges 

On Sunday November 7th I'm flying to Tampa, Florida for attending the 2004 Conference on Information Technology - League for Innovation In Community Colleges. I'll be blogging from the event, which promises to be quite interesting. Actually, the main problem I'll have will be to decide which presentations to attend.

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