Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

31 March 2007

Intelligent Toys…

Clark @ 9:02 AM

This past week I was in Taiwan as an invited keynote at the IEEE’s Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning workshop. I like to keep my head in on the academic side as a source of inspiration, and this was just such an opportunity. I got there late (family commitment meant I missed the first two days) but I heard the last day with some great talks, and had a chance to read a lot of the proceedings on the long flight back.

One of the interesting outcomes was the debate about what’s a game and what’s a toy. Games have rules, toys have affordances (read: capabilities), but when your toys can communicate to you and each other, they start blending the boundaries. Another form of blending was that some of the game work was about classroom work, but the toy stuff tended to be more focused on non-school play.

Of course, there was some talk about supporting the learning, and the need for reflection. In addition to my expected coverage of systematic learning game design, one of the points I tried to throw in is that we should be looking at ways in which learning systems could be smart about coaching learning to learn and generalization, not just on the particular domain such as mathematics. There’s very simple coaching in the Quest game that focuses on your exploration, based upon some work Valerie Shute & Jeffrey Bonar did even longer ago, and I think that model of coaching could be expanded and built into any modeled environment (e.g. game engines).

I didn’t hear his keynote, but Michael Eisenberg, who I’d met years ago and has subsequently become a steadfast innovator at the University of Colorado Boulder (a great cog sci place), had another talk about making magic manifest, not having black boxes but making the operations manipulable so you can change them and explore the underlying relationships. Eric Schweikardt, a student of Michael’s collaborator Dan Gross, attempted a categorization across games, and pointed out a different model of programming that involves lots of distributed capabilities being pulled together into a smart aggregation instead of a central intelligent program (e.g. Lego Mindstorms), and presented several versions.

My notion of a wise curriculum includes thinking systemically and modeling skills, so the notion of using toys to learn different modeling schemes is very cool. Not to the exclusion of the central control model, but as an alternate approach (indeed, as was pointed out by Schweikardt, Stephen Wolfram has argued that we should be using small rules as the way to understand how the world works).

Another innovator with toys was fellow keynoter Masanori Sugimoto who is doing some very innovative things with manipulables, including a computer projector. (I made a note to add ‘projector’ to my list of potential input/outputs for mobile devices!) He also does very systematic studies of his implementations and tunes them to get them better. For instance, he was using a camera to register what elements kids put down where on a grid table, but the kids leaning over obscured it, so he had to make the pieces carry the information and have the grid itself record what was on it.

As Professor Tak-Wai Chan (our host, and a recognized innovator in his own right for his exploration of intelligent learning ‘companions’) noted, one of the reasons to have this overseas is to help make the US aware of how much happens overseas; one of the first lessons I learned when I went to Australia for an academic position was how insular the US is, beacuse there’s so much happening in the US it’s easy to miss how much is happening elsewhere.

Sure, there were some fairly straightforward exercises about games and toys, and some rather typical research, but we need these too. The next one will be a full conference in Europe, and I believe there’s a commitment to regularly move it around. The neat thing about this conference was that it not only about classroom learning but also about informal learning (and technology, ok so I’m still a geek), so it provided an interesting way to look at the intersection, and I think there will be great reasons to keep track of this direction. There were a lot of students, and there’s great hope that this research (as eloquently put many years ago by John Anderson that we learn alot about learning by trying to create learning systems) can make new inroads into understanding.

30 March 2007

Mel Silberman’s Handbook of Experiential Learning

Clark @ 11:22 AM

Mel Silberman’s Handbook of Experiential Learning was waiting for me when I got back from Taiwan this morning (I get a copy because I wrote the Computer Simulation Design chapter). This brand new compendium has sections on theory, application, and different learning goals, including chapters on storytelling, improv, adventure, and more. Authors include thinkers like Thiagi, Brian Remer, and Bernie DeKoven among those I recognize. It looks to be the definitive reference!

28 March 2007

Another tale of travel heroism

Clark @ 2:37 PM

Ok, my fault. I don’t know how, but after rushing onto the Bart train and sitting down, my phone wasn’t in the holster at my waist. I was off to Taiwan for four days, and while the phone wouldn’t work there, it has become my ‘external brain’. Worse, it had some data that wasn’t as protected as it should be.

I joke that if I promise something, and it doesn’t get into my Treo, we never had the conversation. One of the benefits of knowing what brains do well (courtesy of a PhD in cognition) is also knowing what they’re bad at, and so I’ve deliberately pushed the rote remembering off onto external devices. I load it with my graphic models, ToDo’s, my calendar, contacts, etc. While everything’s backed up to my laptop, it’d still be a huge loss in productivity, let alone anything else that might happen as a consequence.

Not surprisingly, I was panicked. Finally, I bucked up the courage to talk to the guy next to me, and let him know what was up, and to ask if he had a cellphone to call my wife and see if she could go to the Bart station and look for it. He was so kind and let me make that call, and then encouraged me to make more. My wife wasn’t happy, as she had volunteered to fill in for the school librarian who’s husband had had a stroke, but understood the urgency. Then the guy had a better idea: call the phone! Which I should’ve thought of immediately; thinking in a panic isn’t the most effective approach, of course. I did call, only to find it busy, and now I was worried that our calling plan was being used up!

I called my wife to tell her this, and she said she’d reached the person, and the lady was on the train and getting off at a station in downtown San Francisco and would leave it at the station there. Huzzah. The guy let me make a couple other calls, to the lady and my wife without knowing me at all, just doing what someone ought to do. I didn’t catch the lady on the very crowded platform, but she did leave the phone and I was reunited with it before continuing on to the airport.

All I know of these two folks is that he was going to tear down a church roof, probably in the rain, and she had a black jacket, jeans, and a bit of an accent, potentially Mediterranean. And that they both were happy to do the right thing. I wish I knew more, but I’m grateful for that.  They’re heroes in my book.

There’s one more thing in my Treo, too, and that’s to get some security software when I get home!

18 March 2007

Taiwan Game Design Workshop opportunity

Clark @ 11:22 AM

I’ll be offering the game design workshop in Taiwan as part of the DIGITEL 2007 conference (“The First IEEE International Workshop on Digital Game and Intelligent Toy Enhanced Learning”.  It’s only the second time it’s offered in Asia, and it’s offered at a very good price compared to what it usually costs at most US conferences.  If you’re anywhere near (Japan, Korea, China), it’s probably the cheapest opportunity you’ll get for this typically well-reviewed workshop (I work hard to make it good, and keep improving it).  I’d love to see you there.

16 March 2007


Clark @ 2:13 PM

Tune out now if you don’t want to hear me go off on a few of life’s irritations:

1. A little over 2 years ago I jumped to Sprint to get the then-new Treo 650. I’ve loved the Treo, with the ability to add apps to have it make me smarter, and have been happy with Sprint’s coverage, call quality, etc. They had a reasonable data package, and I could even use it to do DialUp Networking (DUN), letting my laptop dial into the internet in the few times I wasn’t connected in other ways (e.g. hanging out in an airport awaiting a flight). Had to replace Treo and my laptop at the same time for different reasons, and suddenly the DUN (DialUp Networking) doesn’t work (after 1.5 years). I seldom enough use it, but I finally took some time to try and debug the problem.

No, it’s not a miscommunication between the two new systems, instead: “oh, we disabled that to make you sign up for an actual DUN package” at $30/mo extra. That’s not what they said, but that’s what they meant.

Well, I’m a few months past my 2 year lock-in, and they’ll give me a deal, but now I’ll wait to decide whether I’ll spring for GSM (traveling overseas more of late), or maybe go back to Sprint. But the ClueTrain means that the happy relationship I’ve had with Sprint has been sullied. Any opinions on Cingular or Treo on T-Mobile?

2. Speaking of my Treo, I happily updated it to handle the stupid change in daylight savings time (stupid because the case that it saves energy has been pretty much debunked, though it made my conf calls with Norway better for me), and our Macs handled it just fine. But after following the system-prescribed steps for our pathetic Compaq PC (came with a use-preventing flaw, and after sending it away to get it fixed it came back with the front USB ports not working), it won’t successfully boot even after following the prescribed rescue methods. American business has to cope not only with spiraling costs of healthcare, but broken software, no wonder we’re having trouble being competitive.

3. I’ve got 3 different programs open to handle IM, with windows for each I’ve got to find space for. I’ve Adium to handle both MSN and Yahoo, with clients on each. Then I have iChat for AOL IM; Adium could handle it, but I gave my Mom my old iSight when I upgraded the house computers and now we can video chat (with my Dad gone and us hundreds of miles away, it’s better than a phone call). Finally, I have Skype for calls and chats with folks I want to keep in touch with who’re on that protocol (and for overseas calls). I’d have Gizmo as well, as it’s supposed to be better than Skype, but 3 is already too many!

Many times I use IM just to see if someone’s open to a call (I can type fast, but while I’m really a phoneophobe, sometimes speaking is more effective for negotiating understanding), but with people on different protocols everywhere it’s a real pain. Many biz folks don’t have the problem, as their org’s standardized, but others of us have to be available through many channels. As someone once said: “the nice things about standards is that there are so many of them”. Ahem.

Grumble, mumble…

10 March 2007

LCBlog’s big question of the month: Supporting New Managers

Clark @ 11:23 AM

This month’s Learning Circuits big question is What Would You Do to Support New Managers? I’ve noticed that some create long answers to these questions, but I try to be brief. Of course, I risk people missing the nuances of my reply, but there’s only so much time in a day ;).

I remember a project we did with a client who had just this problem. They’d developed a set of exercises to assist the ‘promoted from the frontline’ managers in switching to the new role of manager. They did a good job of breaking down the tasks into small chunks, and our task was making an online version. NOT, of course, just putting them online, but revising them to achieve the objectives in the new media. Now if only I could remember what those chunks were…

This is a great example, by the way, where there’s an attitude change and major skill set development as well. The attitude change has to be one of moving from being a colleague and perhaps friend to being a respected manager. There’re a whole bunch of associated skills including comprehending business drivers, aligning and measuring performance, inspiring (versus just motivating), coaching, etc.

So what would I do to support them? Let them listen to some folks who were in the situation and learned lessons, have them explore their own views of management and compare to other views, provide them with principles and safe practice, and then scaffold that practice over time while providing them with a community for support. And I’d practice what I preach, inspiring them, coaching their performance, basically modelling the behavior I would want them to adopt.

It’s really the case of how I’d like to be developed as a manager!

Value Nets

Clark @ 11:03 AM

Well, it was a busy time to begin with, but the time for my Dad‘s remembrance was an unexpected (although necessary and fulfilling) addition to the load. As a consequence, I’ve had my head down with little time for reflection. However, there’s been an interesting synergy between a project I’ve been doing and a framework I’ve been developing.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with Verna Allee (who I mentioned earlier) on a project, and getting to know her stuff better. I’ve also been abstracting from some work with a business partner across several organizations, assisting their elearning strategy. One of the things I saw was that there was a reasonable sequence of steps to take in moving from ‘content on a screen with a quiz’ and ‘virtual classroom’ to a technology-empowered performance environment.

eLearning ValueNet
I decided to justify the steps by mapping the organizational and individual benefits from each step, and they reliably include broader reach and more organizational value as you move up the chain. I also believe (but have yet to map, and not sure I can or will) that the steps have to proceed in this order. Or, rather, if you adopt one of the tactics, you’ll have to retrofit the others to move up a level.

I’m willing to be wrong about that last, of course :). I’ll be talking about this at the eLearning Guild’s always excellent Annual Gathering, so maybe we’ll have a chance to talk about it further.

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