Tag Archives: games

Games for learning have a long history

6FADF627E4B28032547CF9F93AA6DA0AThe idea that humans learn happily and thoroughly through play and games did not originate with the video game as the following blog, reposted from the Institute of Play, points out. Although few of us cling to the old idea that play isn’t compatible with the work of learning, we still have a lot to discover about how play facilitates learning and how to craft playful environments to insure that specific academic targets are hit. The Institute of Play is making an important contribution to this field.

History of Games & Learning – a blog post from the Institute of Play

(Click on the text for the full article.)

Games and learning enjoy an association that predates digital technology by thousands of years.

Members of Rhode Island’s volunteer played American Kriegsspiel following the U.S. Civil War. And the pioneering work of Friedrich Froebel―which led to the creation of kindergarten in Germany in the early nineteenth century―was premised on the integration of learning through games and play. The game of chess was used in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to teach noblemen the strategies of war. And there are some scholars who argue that the methods of dialogue and learning Plato ascribed to Socrates functioned through a kind of verbal play.

Professional Simulations – Not Playing Around

Take a bucket, a broomstick, a potentiometer, and a desk chair, and you’ve got a simulator – if you do it right. Flight simulators are incredibly lifelike because of computers and computing, though they were developed for teaching and training for decades before computers were invented. As simulators evolved from crude contraptions to multi-million dollar machines capable of certifying pilots, their evolution changed the what and how of learning and education in an industry. How we learned a new way to learn deserves significantly more research, which we are doing and are inviting others to do, too.

Critical tasks, by their nature, benefit greatly from training and practice in safe environments. A soldier needs to know the basics of how to attack and defend. A surgeon needs to know how to do no harm while also caring and curing. A pilot needs to know how to fly without dealing with the consequences of a failed flight. Falling out of the sky teaches a lesson, but the grading is fatally harsh. It is an invaluable learning tool to be able to stop and talk about a situation, something that can’t be done with a plane wobbling through the sky.

Modern flight simulators are so realistic that pilots can receive the majority of their training on the ground. The most expensive simulators cost millions of dollars and can throw the cockpit and the crew through wild and potentially damaging gyrations. The greater the motions, the more money is spent on hardware for moving the cockpit. Reality is always different because the real vehicles are more complex, the atmosphere is chaotic, and accidents happen. But, the simulator allows for unlimited training so a pilot’s actions are more intuitive and quicker. The extent of the flight’s accelerations and vibrations is only limited by the mechanical systems of the simulator.

Take the same software and constrain the flight to something more benign that a Shuttle landing, and it is possible to simulate the majority of a flight by tilting the pilot and the cockpit. Simulating a different vehicle may only require new data for the simulator and swapping cockpits. The pilot can learn the basics, train for failures, and refine techniques. The vibrations and accelerations are only representative for part of the flight envelope, but obvious hints are provided if limits are exceeded.

Remove most of the hardware and all of the motion, and the cost comes down dramatically. The result is a simulator that can run on a PC, which why some simulators are used more as games than trainers. The graphics can simulate as much as more sophisticated systems. The cockpit and controls can be simplified to be computer generated views, instruments, and controls. The basics of flight, though, can still be taught, though that first real takeoff and landing can be real surprises. It may not be possible to complete the majority of training with a fixed-base simulator, but a lot of training can happen for very little money.

Prior to the PCs were the mainframe simulators that could only be operated by corporations and governments. Many of them were motion simulators after the industry cleared the motion’s first main technological hurdle: hydraulics. The cockpits could mimic the real cockpits because it was possible to get pieces of an airplane and bolt them to a platform. A lot of heavy structure and non-essential systems were removed, though, to ease the mechanical load. The main difference within the era of the mainframes was the view. Current systems can pull in 3-D maps of the world. Step back far enough and the view was from a camera mechanically driven across enormous maps. Fly off course, and the view would blank out as if there was no more world. The pilot’s acceptance of the simulation was interrupted.

Digital computers access databases and algorithms that model the world, the vehicle, scenarios, and internal systems. Complex computers use complex models. Simple computers used far simpler models. The capacity of the simulation was limited only by processing power and memory available.

Prior to digital computers there were analog computers. Few remember working on them, but there were computers that weren’t based on ones and zeroes. Analog computers were based on electronic components: resistors, capacitors, and inductance coils. That may not seem obvious, but physical systems like vehicles can be modeled as a collection of springs, masses, and dampers – which have analogs that are resistors, capacitors, and inductance coils. Analog simulators are like the difference between LPs and MP3s. An LP is a continuous record of the vibrations that are a song. MP3s break up the continuous vibrations into a digital representation that captures most, but not all of the song’s dynamic range. Analog computers were smooth, and therefore more representative of fine motion; but programming one required skills that were more like circuitry design than writing in a formulaic language. The extra setup costs meant each simulation had a very limited flight envelope. The lack of computer generated graphics or computer driven cameras meant the main feedback for the pilot was the instrument panel.

There were simulators prior to computers. The risks and costs of in-flight training were too high to ignore. Vehicles can be modeled as springs, masses, and dampers – so they were. Mechanical simulators provided relatively rudimentary responses to pitch, yaw, and roll which were still better to learn on land rather than in the air. The pilot was much more aware of being in a contraption instead of an aircraft.

At each stage of the evolution of flight simulators the learning and the education changed. The pilot’s immersion was originally superficial with rudimentary systems, and has become so deep that entire flights can be simulated with pilots experiencing many of the physiological reactions from fatigue, failures, and even figuring out how to feed themselves in flight.

The role of computers and computing on professional pilot training deserves far greater research than a simple blog post can embody. That is one of the goals for the History of Computing in Learning and Education’s Virtual Museum. The story is undoubtedly similar within other industries. They all warrant significantly more studies. There are many papers to write and read and support. Contact us if you are working on something similar. In the meantime, here’s the list of simulators we’re starting with: ATC, CAE, Flight Gear, Flight Safety, Frasca, InMotion, Link, X-Plane – and a link to our digital loading dock.

That broomstick, bucket, and desk chair simulator did exist. A few decades ago, a small group of design engineers needed to test a new type of airplane before it left the drawing board. One of the engineers settled into the chair with the bucket between his legs. They housed it in a small room with only a moving horizon on a television and a few spare instruments bolted to a board. After only a few minutes of flight the test engineer was sweating and so anxious about the flight that he had to look over his shoulder to regain his composure.

The technology behind the learning experience isn’t as powerful as the learner’s depth of involvement. Technology is valuable for enhancing the learning experience, but the learner is more important.

Oregon Trail Progress

Our work on The Oregon Trail, the educational game, progresses thanks to Internet Archive’s Software Library: MS-DOS Showcase and MS-DOS Games. There’s a lot of work to do as we study the game, how it developed through its versions, and how it developed the people who played it. Of course, it is necessary to make sure the program still works, so testing is necessary. (Success! Now, back to business.)

Games have been part of education because children like games. Adults do too, but they’re more likely to find a different motivation to learn, and may be so careful about appearances that they’d play.

Oregon Trail, as we’ve written about before, is one of the best examples of how computer games teach different things depending on how the game is played. While each player will always learn differently, the distinction goes deeper because computers and computing are always different. The game teaches about the lives of the pioneers on the trail, but it also teaches critical thinking, strategy, and the influence of chance.

Oregon Trail started with a version that required the player to type in the code. Regardless of the history lessons, the player had to learn something about programming. The power of a typo in code could be readily apparent, and make the game easier, harder, or simply bizarre. Shift a decimal point and the buffaloes can grow enough to feed the entire wagon trail, or so shrink to the size of squirrels, or defy logic.

As storable memory became available, the code may only have to be typed in once, which teaches some programming, and delivers the awareness of the underlying code, but eventually subsequent games and players can ignore the computer and computing and concentrate on the game and its lessons. The user’s manual for the apple II version (thanks to Internet Archive – and note yet another spelling of Apple II) even included the basis of math model so players would maintain some understanding of the game’s math, systems, simulation requirements, and data sources. Assumptions are explicit.

When software was delivered on disks, assumptions became implicit. The game could be played without learning about the programming limitations and requirements. Math models are only witnessed by their products, not because the equations are displayed.

As graphics improved, the nature of the play turned from keyboard commands in the 1990 version to point, click, and shoot in the 1992 version. The visuals emphasized entertainment rather than intellectual complexity.

Screenshot 2015-01-18 at 15.07.27 Screenshot 2015-01-18 at 15.07.51

Thanks to Internet Archive we can pull together a few of these versions for comparisons.

The game continues. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt continues to sell the game in yet new incarnations. The learning continues.

Oregon Trail is one of the easiest games to use as an example because it has spanned the various computer eras.

Other examples are more complex. Flight simulators have existed almost since the beginning of flight. The professional versions advanced outside public access. The home versions were toys to start, but now have advanced into valuable tools.

Oregon Trail, simulators, and others are opportunities for us to study how computers and computing affect learning and education. EdTech is a popular and profitable topic yet considering the impact of computers and computing on our society, very little has been done to study which level of technology is best for specific aspects of learning.

Our goal is to create an online space where such questions can be asked and answered. The size of the task is typified by the size of the game and simulation industries. There’s a lot of work to do, but first, of course, we have to make sure the games are playable.

A Level 4 Response to Gamification is NOT a THING

Games and gamification are concepts thrown around within education. They can sound like far more solid concepts than they are. Will Thalheimer’s (@WillWorkLearn) wrote an impressive post, Gamification is NOT a Thing!!, to his Will at Work Learning blog. He included a bit of a challenge;
“To get to WAWL Level 4, create your own list, reflect on what you discover, post it somewhere, and send me the link.”

HCLE’s Founder, Liza Loop (@LizaLoopED) responded.


Liza wrote:

“Bravo, finally some sensible talk about computer games and learning. Let me continue with some nitpicking and further ideas…

1st – A distinction between ‘work’ and ‘play’: Work is done for some extrinsic reward; play is done for the joy of the activity itself. The reward for play is intrinsic. Games (exclusive of ‘war games’) are forms of play that are bounded by a set of rules that limit what the players can do during the game. For the majority of young learners, what is offered in schools is ‘work’. Computer games, like recess, have a much larger element of ‘play’.

2nd – ‘Learning’ and ‘teaching’ are different activities, performed by different actors, often on the same stage, sometimes connected by a common intention or outcome. Learning takes place within an organism (and, by analogy, within a computational machine) and is often observable to an outsider by some change in the behavior of the learning organism but often is not noticeable for some time. Teaching is an activity performed by a person either in the presence of a target learner or delivered remotely via a book, video, computer, some other recorded medium or the structure of an immersive environment. Teaching has an intended outcome, some identifiable change in the learner of which the teacher may or may not become aware. Teachers and educators who complain that their students “are not learning” are merely ignoring the palpable but unintended lesson they deliver every day. Most people who discuss “e-learning” are really talking about “e-teaching” and are also ignoring the learning that is taking place within those who contact their products.

3rd – A lesson can be either intended or unintended by a teacher, it depends on whether you are taking the teacher or the learner perspective. From the teacher point of view the lesson is what the teacher wanted to teach and is deemed a success only if the learner subsequently performs as intended. From the learner point of view a lesson is what the learner takes away from the experience with the teacher (or the teacher’s recorded medium, e.g. text, audio, computer game, etc.). For example, one of my sons learned that if he swore at his coach during P.E. he would be suspended from school for the balance of the day. The intended lesson was that swearing at the coach was a bad idea. The learned lesson for this school-aversive child was that getting out of school was incredibly easy.

4th – Different individuals (including humans, chickens and perhaps even flat worms) experience different events as intrinsically rewarding. Just because a teacher would be pleased to receive a gold star doesn’t mean the learner is going to respond positively to having that same star posted next to his or her name on the class bulletin board. In the example above, the school assumed that being suspended would be a negative reinforcement for my son – they were wrong and had inadvertently administered the strongest positive reward for “bad behavior” in their tool kit. Chickens are easier, especially if you keep them hungry. They pretty reliably find a kernel or two of corn rewarding.

5th – A possible definition of ‘gamification’ is the imbedding of teaching (intended lessons) into games (play environments, sometimes presented via computer, always with rules of engagement). Recall that ‘play’ has to be intrinsically rewarding to the player. For the 39 years that I have been exploring computing in learning and education, educators have been dazzled by the seemingly intrinsic motivational power of the computer and computer games. In this thrall they have ignored most of what they know about research and evaluation of varying educational strategies and have used grossly differing situations as study treatments and controls. Throwing in a multiplication problem as an obstacle to continuing along a thematic pathway in the context of a completely unrelated computer game might be considered as ‘gamification’. But it doesn’t address pedagogical strategies for teaching numerical manipulation skills, issues of intrinsic reward or what unintended lessons are completing for the learner’s attention. In other words, most of the existing research on the use of computer games for teaching is so poorly designed that it is useless. No wonder we aren’t seeing replicable results!

To recap (and expand a little), Gamification Factors include:

1. Intrinsic and extrinsic reward structure

2. Rules of the game

3. Medium of access (including type of computer, internet access, game station, etc.)

4. Teaching goals

5. Additional anticipated learning outcomes

6. Presentation medium

7. Learning modalities targeted

8. Characteristics of target learners (age, natural languages, educational level, social context)

9. Prerequisite learner skills needed for game entry (reading, calculation, sensory abilities, eye-hand coordination, cultural context, etc.)

11. Learner’s previous experience with game

12. Embedded instructional strategies All these factors need to be controlled in order to draw meaningful conclusions with regard to efficacy of any game for teaching anything.

Do I get to Level 4?

Please visit the History of Computing in Learning and Education at www.hcle.org.”

Well, do you think she made it to Level 4?

Peoples Computer Company At Stanford

Thanks to our new (2014) arrangement with Stanford University Libraries Special Collections, you can now see the first issues of the People’s Computer Company (PCC) newsletter. (Here’s a partial index.) People learned how and why to use computers through such newsletters.

It is easy to stereotype the era as a time when every computer user thought computers were panaceas. PCC didn’t hide the fact that it saw big topics ahead.

Computers are mostly
used against people instead of for people
used to control people instead of to free them
time to change all that –
we need a . . .

Welcome to 1972. Much of the debate about computers and their influence on education, life, and society was carried out in handwritten, handdrawn newsletters published by passionate people. They were urgently trying to affect change.

Welcome to 2014. Most of those newsletters, notes, brochures, and pamphlets were printed for the moment, which means they weren’t archival. Forty year old mimeographs and xeroxes are fading. We are urgently trying to save those records.

Thanks to people like our founder, Liza Loop, who stored thousands of documents and to professors like Fred Turner and Henry Lowood, who teach about such subjects we are making those early discussions available for the inquisitive and the academic.

Stanford Libraries has generously begun scanning and archiving Liza’s collection. The results are online. How else can you learn that it wasn’t all about soldering hardware or debugging software?

is a newspaper . . .
about having fun with computers
and learning how to use computers
and how to buy a minicomputer for yourself or your school
and books . . . and films . . . and tools for the future.”

We expect everything to be computer-generated. Desktop publishing has become so ubiquitous that it isn’t even mentioned now. Anyone can use templates to create professional looking publications. Software packages proudly proclaim their ease and creative options. Take a look at a few pages of PCC. Handwritten notes meant no font restrictions. Handdrawn graphics meant expressive and unique art. Cut and paste meant scissors and glue which also meant anything could be printed at any angle. And dragons. They made sure there were always dragons.

We’ve mentioned People’s Computer Company before. It was founded by several pioneers, several of whom are described on our wiki, and two that were also described here on this blog. (Bob Albrecht, Leroy Finkel)

If a description sufficed, then there’d be no need for anything more than these posts. You’ve got to see this for yourself. And, if you can, thank and support the people doing this work.