Saturday, September 06, 2008

Notes from CTL

I recently attended a small in-house conference held at Columbus State called Celebrate Teaching & Learning Day. I admit this is a hokey name; I mean, we do this as opposed to, what, celebrating ignorance?

I gave a presentation based heavily on my Origins seminar, tailored for an audience of teachers who may or may not actually be gamers. But that's not what this post is about. This is about the other seminars I attended and why they're relevant to teaching and/or game design.

Keynote: Dr. Mark Milliron

  • Normally I dislike keynotes, because they tend to be abstract and just an artificial excuse to get people excited. They remind me of pep rallies from high school. But this guy had a lot of interesting ideas, making him one of my favorite keynote speakers to date.
  • First big idea: the use of analytics (that is, mining a bunch of data and using it to make educated guesses about future behavior) is already an established technology -- some examples being's ability to make pretty good guesses of other things you might like to buy whenever you click on any single item, or TiVo's ability to download TV shows you've never heard of that it thinks you'd like, or your email spam filter getting better over time the more you tell it what is and isn't spam. We need to leverage this kind of predictive modeling in academics. Wouldn't it be useful for a professor to receive this email: "Based on past behavior, here is a list of students who might be thinking of dropping your class next week."? Wouldn't it be useful for a student to receive this email: "You seem to be having trouble with this particular concept. Other students who have similar problems have found the following resources useful."?
  • Second big idea: using the power of open-source to improve teaching. Pointed us to, which is essentially Wikipedia for instructors. (Unfortunately, there are currently no learning objects for game design. But if you teach Biology or English or something, you're in luck.)
  • Amusing quote: "Most people who use PowerPoint have neither power, nor a point."

"Sage on the Stage to Edutainer": Dr. Bill Dross

  • Three different ways that people learn: visual, auditory, kinesthetic. Any given class will probably be split evenly between them. This is probably not news to experienced teachers, but it certainly has applications for game design (e.g. don't just have a page of scrolling text when it's possible to add voice and pictures; see if you can add an icon to each menu item so that they aren't just text; include subtitles for voice, and visual effects to match audio cues).
  • In the classroom, you can help auditory learners by recording your own lectures and making them available as podcasts. (If you don't know how... ask your students!)
  • Likewise, you can use audio or video recordings during class time. In particular, it's expensive and not always practical for students to attend GDC, but you can at least download some sessions from GDC Radio and make them available on your course website.
  • There is a concept in the field of education called "discovery learning" which is when students do research and learning on their own, relatively undirected (similar to a self-paced course, or doing work on a portfolio piece). I see a direct analogy between discovery learning and open-world games like GTA or Oblivion... and a similar analogy between structured lecture and on-rails RPGs. (This all makes me wonder how much information you can get about a student's preferred learning style, simply by asking them what their favorite games are.)
  • I use a lot of informal discussion in my classes, but some professors prefer formal debate (which I haven't tried, but now I want to). The idea is to present a controversial issue, and randomly assign students to either be "pro" or "con" (so, students may be arguing something they don't personally believe). Pro always speaks first, then Con (for only a couple of minutes each -- no interruptions allowed by the other side); then Pro and Con again to rebut each others' arguments; then a short break for each side to regroup; then a summary from each side; and then you can determine a winner (perhaps by a randomly-selected panel of students who are made judges instead of speakers). Examples of topics that I'd like to try this method with: government regulation of the game industry, the importance of diversity in the workplace, narratology vs. ludology, or whether the proliferation of sequels and licenses is good or bad for the industry.

"Hybrid Courses: The Best of Both Worlds?" (various speakers)

  • I'd never heard of "hybrid" courses before. Apparently these are courses that are half face-to-face, half online (with half the number of normal contact hours in a classroom). Does that mean that they're a mostly face-to-face class with some extra online content? A mostly-online class with a little bit of face time? An entirely new type of class that has some elements of online and face-to-face and some parts all its own? At this point, the concept is new enough that it varies from class to class, which leads to student confusion.
  • Best way to avoid this is to make expectations clear up front -- preferably in the course catalog, and repeated at the start of class.
  • If you want to draw a parallel between hybrid courses and development of hybrid-genre games, be my guest.

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