Games that teach – VLENZ Update, No 174, June 28, 2010

An image from one of Caspian Learning's military training simulations

For video click on this view of "Thinking World's" military checkpoint simulation

Thinking Worlds puts ‘reality’

that works into  simulations

A  military simulation in “Thinking Worlds,” a browser-based, 3D virtual world technology,  had reduced – by more than 50 percent –  the need to carry out  remedial or  “Brought Up To Speed” training in one cohort that trained on the UK Navy’s Maritime Warfare School simulation,  according to Graeme Duncan (pictured right), the CEO of the award-winning Caspian Learning organisation.

This reduction was when  the cohort of 100 was compared to a similar size control cohort which went through a more traditional normal “onboarding” training process.

Graeme Duncan

But, he told online blog Defence IQ, that it was  “clear is that there is no one, and never should be, simulation or games engine that solves all of our learning ills.”

“There is a need for different simulation technology, both authoring platforms and delivery platforms to deliver different types of learning experience,” he said. “And that could be the difference between single player scenarios and multiplayer scenarios.”

Caspian Learning is the developer of the Thinking Worlds’ 3D authoring tool and software platform that enables users to engage in a 3D virtual simulation designed to train and teach, particularly in the military realm and in my view has demonstrated that it is  up with the game if not ahead of most of those doing education simulations in virtual worlds such as Second Life, OpenSim and others.

It has probably deployed the widest range of simulations and 3D immersive learning environments of any serious gaming or learning developer in the UK as well as more than 50 individual simulations  in sectors as diverse as pharmaceuticals and the motor industry, working  with organisations such as IBM, Accenture, Price Water House Coopers, the BBC, QinetiQ and Volvo; the education sphere with the UK Ministry of Education and regional bodies of education. In  the defence sector they have mainly worked with the UK Defence College of Policing and Guarding, creating 3D immersive simulations to enable them to put their personnel into realistic scenarios where they have to go through entry search procedure processes, deciding how to enter the premises effectively, how to search for evidence effectively, and how to go through the process of seizing that evidence and making sure that it is usable if it is needed in a court of law.

In addition Caspian Learning developed a scenario for the  UK Royal Navy’s Maritime Warfare School, which won the E-learning Age award in the UK. It was used to give new navy recruits “onboarding” training in preparation for them going onboard a Type 23 war frigate; enabling them to carry out health and safety and weapons rounds inspections.

“We created a fully accurate, Type 23 warship, and created a simulation, but also a serious game in that environment, where there is a saboteur onboard and they’ve got to go and test their knowledge,” Duncan said.

The organisation also has worked with the Defence Centre of Training Support  in the UK, and with the Defence Academy in the UK. In the US, through  licensed technology, it has worked with the DoD, is working in the defence security arena, and a number of police forces throughout Europe as well.

Duncan noted that his organisation attempted to make its simulations and the immersive learning environments as real as they can possibly be while at the same time allowing instructional designers to create fully immersive 3D simulations at costs previously restricted to 2D development.

That means three things, he said. ” We tend to focus on the graphical fidelity when we talk about realism–how does it look on screen, how are the shading and the rendering package making it as realistic to our eyes as possible …” but  …”to create a simulation that is highly realistic you also need to create scenarios and simulations of events in that learning environment that are highly contextual, and highly representative of what happens in the real world.” (Demo Videos here)

“A Planet in Peril:Plagiarism”

Meanwhile Caspian Learning  announced recently that “A Planet in Peril: Plagiarism”,  developed by a small group of Communications Media and Instructional Technology doctoral students  from the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) ad  won the Serious Games Challenge launched at the Game Based Learning conference in London.

The challenge, open to both novice and expert users alike, was to create the most innovative serious game using Thinking Worlds’ technology  in  30 days.

Lee Rushworth, Marketing Executive for Caspian Learning, said, “All of the entries we received were of a very good standard, considering that no training had been given to the entrants, but there were one or two that stood out above the others.  A Planet in Peril: Plagiarism was one that really stood out to us as a well-produced serious game built with a great sense of humour and some innovative uses of Thinking Worlds’ interactions that even we hadn’t thought of.”

The game, which is currently in a beta release, follows the story of a student who uncovers the secret of a group of aliens, disguised as academics, at his university campus. The aliens have prophesied the end of the world, which is set to occur due to a student’s excessive plagiarism, and it’s up to the hero to put the pieces of this puzzle together in order to prevent disaster. While working through the challenges players learn about what is, and what is not plagiarism, including ways to avoid it.

The game is targeted at the college and university level but has application for high school students.

The final version of the game will be released later this year.  Ryan L. Sittler, Assistant Professor of Library Services at the California University of Pennsylvania (and one of the lead designers for “Random Precision Studios”) said: “I am working on my PhD at IUP and am an avid game player. My State-System colleague, Dr Kelly Heider, suggested that I create an information literacy game. I knew I could never do it on my own, so I asked some other doctoral students to help get it off the ground. Fortunately, they were interested! It was in our initial conversations that we settled on one information literacy concept – plagiarism – and developed the ridiculous end-of-the-world scenario.”

The  team also  included Chad Sherman and David P. Keppel as the other lead designers (handling the majority of game production) and Dana Covitz Hackley, Chrissy Schaeffer, and Laurie A. Grosik assisting with pre-production and documenting the process for a potential future publication.

The winning game was uploaded to the Internet and is available for anyone to play here.

Life Games, VLENZ Update, No 169, April 17, 2010

Harnessing the power of play

Can   games-based learning

‘players’ save  the  world?

Jane McGonigal  thinks they can …

Jane McGonigal, who  directs game R&D at the Institute for the Future, a US nonprofit forecasting firm where she developed Superstruct, a massively multiplayer on-line roleplaying game (MORPG) in which players organise society to solve the issues that will confront the world in 2019,  asks why the real world doesn’t work more like an online game.

In a recent  TED presentation,  above, the games designer and futurist says her goal for the next decade is to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in on-line games.

Based on her research over a decade, she says she plans, over the next decade, to  convince more people to play bigger and better on-line games.

Noting that currently people spend an estimated  three billion hours a week on on-line games, she says, her research has  shown,  counter-intuitively, that this is not nearly enough  to  save the world from its real life problems.

In fact she believes if the human race wants to survive into the next century on this planet  “we need to increase the total time spent on-line gaming  to 21 billion hours game playing every week “by the within 10 years.

It’s worthwhile spending the 20 minutes it takes to watch to TED video to find out why she believes this, and why  her argument is eminently reasonable and probably something we disregard at our peril.

In the best-designed games, she says, “our human experience is optimised” and, when  “reality is broken, games designers can fix it.”

Jane McGonigal

“We have important work to do, we’re surrounded by potential collaborators, and we learn quickly and in a low-risk environment,” McGonigal says, believing that the world’s gamers are an important resource for changing the world we live in for the better.

In her work as a game designer, she creates games that use mobile and digital technologies to turn everyday spaces into playing fields, and everyday people into teammates. She believes her game-world insights can explain — and improve — the way human beings learn, work, solve problems, and lead their real lives.

McGonigal masterminded World Without Oil, which simulated the beginning of a global oil crisis and inspired players to change their daily energy habits.

She says, “Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to be become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality.”

The link to her  presentation was provide to me by Owen McCall, of the New Zealand Life Games Project.  Another supporter of that project, John Eyles, research and alliances leader at Telecom New Zealand, director at Eyles and Associates Ltd and chair at EON Foundation, provided another worthwhile link from a game-based learning conference he attended recently in the UK

The link, which should prove a valuable resource for all those involved in games-based learning,   Engage Learning, is an EU-sponsored initiative  which among other things,  provides information about general rating of games and quality criteria for evaluation of games as learning resources.

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