Jun 282017
 

Today I am at the eLearning@ed Conference 2017, our annual day-long event for the eLearning community across the University of Edinburgh – including learning technologies, academic staff and some post graduate students. As I’m convener of the community I’m also chairing some sessions today so the notes won’t be at quite my normal pace!

As usual comments, additions and corrections are very welcome. 

For the first two sections I’m afraid I was chairing so there were no notes… But huge thanks to Anne Marie for her excellent quick run through exciting stuff to come… 

Welcome – Nicola Osborne, elearning@ed Convenor

Forthcoming Attractions – Anne Marie Scott, Head of Digital Learning Applications and Media

And with that it was over to our wonderful opening keynote… 

Opening Keynote: Prof. Nicola Whitton, Professor of Professional Learning, Manchester Metropolitan University: Inevitable Failure Assessment? Rethinking higher education through play (Chair: Dr Jill MacKay)

Although I am in education now, my background is as a computer scientist… So I grew up with failure. Do you remember the ZX Spectrum? Loading games there was extremely hit and miss. But the games there – all text based – were brilliant, they worked, they took you on adventures. I played all the games but I don’t think I ever finished one… I’d get a certain way through and then we’d have that idea of catastrophic failure…

And then I met a handsome man… It was unrequited… But he was a bit pixellated… Here was Guybush Threepwood of the Monkey Island series. And that game changed everything – you couldn’t catastrophically fail, it was almost impossible. But in this game you can take risks, you can try things, you can be innovative… And that’s important for me… That space for failure…

The way that we and our students think about failure in Higher Education, and deal with failure in Higher Education. If we think that going through life and never failing, we will be set for disappointment. We don’t laud the failures. J.K. Rowling, biggest author, rejected 12 times. The Beatles, biggest band of the 20th Century, were rejected by record labels many many time. The lightbulb failed hundreds of times! Thomas Edison said he didn’t fail 100 times, he succeeded in lots of stages…

So, to laud failure… Here are some of mine:

  1. Primary 5 junior mastermind – I’m still angry! I chose horses as my specialist subject so, a tip, don’t do that!
  2. My driving test – that was a real resiliance moment… I’ll do it again… I’ll have more lessons with my creepy driving instructor, but I’ll do it again.
  3. First year university exams – failed one exam, by one mark… It was borderline and they said “but we thought you need to fail” – I had already been told off for not attending lectures. So I gave up my summer job, spent the summer re-sitting. I learned that there is only so far you can push things… You have to take things seriously…
  4. Keeping control of a moped – in Thailand, with no training… Driving into walls… And learning when to give up… (we then went by walking and bus)
  5. Funding proposals and article submissions, regularly, too numerous to count – failure is inevitable… As academics we tend not to tell you about all the times we fail… We are going to fail… So we have to be fine to fail and learn from it. I was involved in a Jisc project in 2009… I’ve published most on it… It really didn’t work… And when it didn’t work they funded us to write about that. And I was very lucky, one of the Innovation Programme Managers who had funded us said “hey, if some of our innovation funding isn’t failing, then we aren’t being innovative”. But that’s not what we talk about.

For us, for our students… We have to understand that failure is inevitable. Things are currently set up as failure being a bad outcome, rather than an integral part of the learning process… And learning from failure is really important. I have read something – though I’ve not been able to find it again – that those who pass their driving test on the second attempt are better drives. Failure is about learning. I have small children… They spent their first few years failing to talk then failing to walk… That’s not failure though, it’s how we learn…

Just a little bit of theory. I want to talk a bit about the concept of the magic circle… The Magic Circle came from game theory, from the 1950s. Picked up by ? Zimmerman in early 2000s… The idea is that when you play with someone, you enter this other space, this safe space, where normal rules don’t apply… Like when you see animals playfighting… There is mutual agreement that this doesn’t count, that there are rules and safety… In Chess you don’t just randomly grab the king. Pub banter can be that safe space with different rules applying…

This happens in games, this happens in physical play… How can we create magic circles in learning… So what is that:

  • Freedom to fail – if you won right away, there’s no point in playing it. That freedom to fail and not be constrained by the failure… How we look at failure in games is really different from how we look at failure in Higher Education.
  • Lusory attitude – this is about a willingness to engage in play, to forget about the rules of the real world, to abide by the rules of this new situation. To park real life… To experiment, that is powerful. And that idea came from Leonard Suits whose book, The Grasshopper, is a great Playful Learning read.
  • Intrinsic motivation – this is the key area of magic circle for higher education. The idea that learning can be and should be intrinsically motivating is really really important.

So, how many of you have been in an academic reading group? OK, how many have lasted more than a year? Yeah, they rarely last long… People don’t get round to reading the book… We’ve set up a book group with special rules: you either HAVE To read the book, or your HAVE TO PRETEND that you read the book. We’ve had great turn out, no idea if they all read the books… But we have great discussion… Reframing that book group just a small bit makes a huge difference.

That sort of tiny change can be very powerful for integrating playfulness. We don’t think twice about doing this with children… Part of the issue with play, especially with adults, is what matters about play… About that space to fail. But also the idea of play as a socialised bonding space, for experimentation, for exploration, for possibilities, for doing something else, for being someone else. And the link with motivation is quite well established… I think we need to understand that different kind of play has different potential, but it’s about play and people, and safe play…

This is my theory heavy slide… This is from a paper I’ve just completed with colleagues in Denmark. We wanted to think “what is playful learning”… We talk about Higher Education and playful learning in that context… So what actually is it?

Well there is signature pedagogy for playful learning in higher education, under which we have surface (game) structures; deep (play) structures; implicit (playful) structures. Signature pedagogy could be architecture or engineering…

This came out of work on what students respond to…

So Surface (game) structures includes: ease of entry and explicit progression; appropriate and flexible levels of challenge; engaging game mechanics; physical or digital artefacts. Those are often based around games and digital games… But you can be playful without games…

Deep (play) structures is about: active and physical engagement; collaboration with diversity; imagining possibilities; novelty and surprises.

Implicit (playful) structures: lusory attitude; democratice values and openness; acceptance of risk-taking and failure; intrinsic motivation. That is so important for us in higher education…

So, rant alert…

Higher Education is broken. And that is because schools are broken. I live in Manchester (I know things aren’t as bad in Scotland) and we have assessment all over the place… My daughter is 7 sitting exams. Two weeks of them. They are talking about exams for reception kids – 4 year olds! We have a performative culture of “you will be assessed, you will be assessed”. And then we are surprised when that’s how our students respond… And have the TEF appearing… The golds, silvers, and bronze… Based on fairly random metrics… And then we are surprised when people work to the metrics. I think that assessment is a great way to suck out all the creativity!

So, some questions my kids have recently asked:

  • Are there good viruses? I asked an expert… apparently there are for treating people.. (But they often mutate.)
  • Do mermaids lay eggs? Well they are part fish…
  • Do Snow Leopards eat tomatoes? Where did this question come from? Who knows? Apparently they do eat monkeys… What?!

But contrast that to what my students ask:

  • Will I need to know this for the exam?
  • Are we going to be assessed on that?

That’s what happens when we work to the metrics…

We are running a course where there were two assessments. One was formative… And students got angry that it wasn’t worth credit… So I started to think about what was important about assessment? So I plotted the feedback from low to high, and consequence from low to high… So low consequence, low feedback…

We have the idea of the Trivial Fail – we all do those and it doesn’t matter (e.g. forgetting to signal at a roundabout), and lots of opportunity to fail like that.

We also have the Critical Fail – High Consequence and Low Feedback – kids exams and quite a lot of university assessment fits there.

We also have Serious Fail – High Consequence and High Feedback – I’d put PhD Vivas there… consequences matter… But there is feedback and can be opportunity to manage that.

What we need to focus on in Higher Education is the Micro Fail – low consequence with high feedback. We need students to have that experience, and to value that failure, to value failure without consequence…

So… How on earth do we actually do this? How about we “Level Up” assessment… With bosses at the end of levels… And you keep going until you reach as far as you need to go, and have feedback filled in…

Or the Monkey Island assessment. There is a goal but it doesn’t matter how you get there… You integrate learning and assessment completely, and ask people to be creative…

Easter Egg assessment… Not to do with chocolate but “Easter Eggs” – suprises… You don’t know how you’ll be assessed… Or when you’ll be assessed… But you will be! And it might be fun! So you have to go to lectures… Real life works like that… You can’t know which days will count ahead of time.

Inevitable Failure assessment… You WILL fail first time, maybe second time, third time… But eventually pass… Or even maybe you can’t ever succeed and that’s part of the point.

The point is that failure is inevitable and you need to be able to cope with that and learn from that. On which note… Here is my favourite journal, the Journal of Universal Rejection… This is quite a cathartic experience, they reject everything!

So I wanted to talk about a project that we are doing with some support from the HEA… Eduscapes… Have you played Escape Rooms? They are so addictive! There are lots of people creating educational Escape Rooms… This project is a bit different… So there are three parts… You start by understanding what the Escape Room is, how they work; then some training; and then design a game. But they have to trial them again and again and again. We’ve done this with students, and with high school students three times now. There is inevitable failure built in here… And the project can run over days or weeks or months… But you start with something and try and fail and learn…

This is collaborative, it is creative – there is so much scope to play with, sometimes props, sometimes budget, sometimes what they can find… In the schools case they were maths and Comp Sci students so there was a link to the curriculum. It is not assessed… But other people will see it – that’s quite a powerful motivator… We have done this with reflection/portfolio assessment… That resource is now available, there’s a link, and it’s a really simple way to engage in something that doesn’t really matter…

And while I’m here I have to plug our conference, Playful Learning, now in its second year. We were all about thinking differently about conferences… But always presenting at traditional conferences. So our conference is different… Most of it is hands on, all different stuff, a space to do something different – we had a storytelling in a tent as one of these… Lots of space but nothing really went wrong. But we need something to fail. Applications are closed this year… But there will be a call next year… So play more, be creative, fail!

So, to finish… I’m playful, play has massive potential… But we also have to think about diversity of play, the resilience to play… A lot of the research on playful learning, and assessment doesn’t recognise the importance of gender, race, context, etc… And the importance of the language we use in play… It has nuance, and comes with distinctions… We have to encourage people to play ad get involved. And we really have to re-think assessment – for ourselves, of universities, of students, of school pupils… Until we rethink this, it will be hard to have any real impact for playful learning…

Jill: Thank you so much, that was absolutely brilliant. And that Star Trek reference is “Kobayashi Maru”!

Q&A

Q1) In terms of playful learning and assessment, I was wondering how self-assessment can work?

A1) That brings me back to previous work I have done around reflection… And I think that’s about bringing that reflection into playful assessment… But it’s a hard question… More space and time for reflection, possibly more space for support… But otherwise not that different from other assessment.

Q2) I run a research methods course for an MSc… We tried to invoke playfulness with a fake data set with dragons and princesses… Any other examples of that?

A2) I think that that idea of it being playful, rather than games, is really important. Can use playful images, or data that makes rude shapes when you graph is!

Q3) Nic knows that I don’t play games… I was interested in that difference between gaming and play and playfulness… There is something about games that don’t entice me at all… But that Lusory attitude did feel familiar and appealing… That suspension of disbelief and creativity… And that connection with gendered discussion of play and games.

A3) We are working on a taxonomy of play. That’s quite complex… Some things are clearly play… A game, messing with LEGO… Some things are not play, but can be playful… Crochet… Jigsaw puzzles… They don’t have to be creative… But you can apply that attitude to almost anything. So there is play and there is a playful attitude… That latter part is the key thing, the being prepared to fail…

Q4) Not all games are fun… Easy to think playfulness and games… A lot of games are work… Competitive gaming… Or things like World of Warcraft – your wizard chores. And intensity there… Failure can be quite problematic if working with 25 people in a raid – everyone is tired and angry… That’s not a space where failure is ok… So in terms of what we can learn from games it is important to remember that games aren’t always fun or playful…

A4) Indeed, and not all play is fun… I hate performative play – improv, people touching me… It’s about understanding… It’s really nuanced. It used to be that “students love games because they are fun” and now “students love play because it’s fun” and that’s still missing the point…

Q5) I don’t think you are advocating this but… Thinking about spoonful of sugar making assessment go down… Tricking students into assessment??

A5) No. It’s taking away the consequences in how we think about assessment. I don’t have a problem with exams, but the weight on that, the consequences of failure. It is inevitable in HE that we grade students at different levels… So we have to think about how important assessment is in the real world… We don’t have equivelents of University assessments in the real world… Lets say I do a bid, lots of work, not funded… In real world I try again. If you fail your finals, you don’t get to try again… So it’s about not making it “one go and it’s over”… That’s hard but a big change and important.

Q6) I started in behavioural science in animals… Play there is “you’ll know it when you see it” – we have clear ideas of what other behaviours look like, but play is hard to describe but you know it when you see it… How does that work in your taxonomy…

A6) I have a colleague who is a physical science teacher trainer… And he’s gotten to “you’ll know it when you see it”… Sometimes that is how you perceive that difference… But that’s hard when you apply for grants! It’s a bit of an artificial exercise…

Q7) Can you tell us more about play and cultural diversity, and how we need to think about that in HE?

A7) At the moment we are at the point that people understand and value play in different way. I have a colleague looking at diversity in play… A lot of research previously is on men, and privileged white men… So partly it’s about explaining why you are doing, what you are doing, in the way you are doing it… You have to think beyond that, to appropriateness, to have play in your toolkit…

Q8) You talk about physical spaces and playfulness… How much impact does that have?

A8) It’s not my specialist area but yes, the physical space matters… And you have to think about how to make your space more playful..

Introductions to Break Out Sessions: Playful Learning & Experimentation (Nicola Osborne)

  • Playful Learning – Michael Boyd (10 min)

We are here today with the UCreate Studio… I am the manager of the space, we have student assistants. We also have high school students supporting us too. This pilot runs to the end of July and provides a central Maker Space… To create things, to make things, to generate ideas… This is mixture of the maker movement, we are a space for playful learning through making. There are about 1400 maker spaces world wide, many in Universities in the UK too… Why do they pop up in Universities? They are great creative spaces to learn.

You can get hands on with technology… It is about peer based learning… And project learning… It’s a safe space to fail – it’s non assessed stuff…

Why is it good for learning? Well for instance the World Economic Forum predict that 35% of core professional skills will change from 2015 to 2020. Complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, judgement and decision making, cognitive flexibility… These are things that can’t be automated… And can be supported by making and creating…

So, what do we do? We use new technologies, we use technologies that are emerging but not yet widely adopted. And we are educational… That first few months is the hard bit… We don’t lecture much, we are there to help and guide and scaffold. Students can feel confident that they have support if they need it.

And, we are open source! Anyone in the University can use the space, be supported in the space, for free as long as they openly share and license whatever they make. Part of that bigger open ethos.

So, what gets made? Includes academic stuff… Someone made a holder for his spectrometer and 3D printed it. He’s now looking to augment this with his chemistry to improve that design; we have Josie in archeology scanning artefacts and then using that to engage people – using VR; Dimitra in medicine, following a poster project for a cancer monitoring chip, she started prototyping; Hayden in Geosciences is using 3D scanning to see the density of plant matter to understand climate change.

But it’s not just that. Also other stuff… Henry studies architecture, but has a grandfather who needs meds and his family worries if he takes his medicine.. So he’s designed a system that connects a display of that. Then Greg on ECA is looking at projecting memories on people… To see how that helps…

So, I wanted to flag some ideas we can discuss… One of he first projects when I arrived, Fiona Hale and Chris Speed (ECA) ran “Maker Go” had product design students, across the years, to come up with a mobile maker space project… Results were fantastic – a bike to use to scan a space… A way to follow and make paths with paint, to a coffee machine powered by failed crits etc. Brilliant stuff. And afterwards there was a self-organised (first they can remember) exhibtion, Velodrama…

Next up was Edinburgh IoT challenge… Students and academics came together to address challenges set by Council, Uni, etc. Designers, Engineers, Scientists… Led to a really special project, 2 UG students approached us to set yp the new Embedded adn Robotics Society – they run sessions every two weeks. And going strength to strength.

Last but not least… Digital manufacturing IP session trialled last term with Dr Stema Kieria, to explore 3D scanning and printing and the impact on IPs… Huge areas… Echos of taping songs off the radio. Took something real, showed it hands on, learned about technologies, scanned copyright materials, and explored this. They taught me stuff! And that led to a Law and Artificial Intelligence Hackathon in March. This was law and informatics working together, huge ideas… We hope to see them back in the studio soon!

  • Near Future Teaching Vox Pops – Sian Bayne (5 mins)

I am Assistant Vice Principal for Digital Education and I was very keen to look at designing the future of digital education at Edinburgh. I am really excited to be here today… We want you to answer some questions on what teaching will look like in this university in 20 or 30 years time:

  • will students come to campus?
  • will we come to campus?
  • will we have AI tutors?
  • How will teaching change?
  • Will learning analytics trigger new things?
  • How will we work with partner organisations?
  • Will peers accredit each other?
  • Will MOOCs stull exist?
  • Will performance enhancement be routine?
  • Will lectures still exist?
  • Will exams exist?
  • Will essays be marked by software?
  • Will essays exist?
  • Will discipline still exist?
  • Will the VLE still exist?
  • Will we teach in VR?
  • Will the campus be smart? And what does eg IoT to monitor spaces mean socially?
  • Will we be smarter through technology?
  • What values should shape how we change? How we use these technologies?

Come be interviewed for our voxpops! We will be videoing… If you feel brave, come see us!

And now to a break… and our breakout sessions, which were… 

Morning Break Out Sessions

  • Playful Learning Mini Maker Space (Michael Boyd)
  • 23 Things (Stephanie (Charlie) Farley)
  • DIY Film School (Gear and Gadgets) (Stephen Donnelly)
  • World of Warcraft (download/set up information here) (Hamish MacLeod & Clara O’Shea)
  • Near Future Teaching Vox Pops (Sian Bayne)

Presentations: Fun and Games and Learning (Chair: Ruby Rennie, Lecturer, Institute for Education, Teaching and Leadership (Moray House School of Education))

  • Teaching with Dungeons & Dragons – Tom Boylston

I am based in Anthropology and we’ve been running a course on the anthropology of games. And I just wanted to talk about that experience of creating playful teaching and learning. So, Dungeons and Dragons was designed in the 1970s… You wake up, your chained up in a dungeon, you are surrounded by aggressive warriors… And as a player you choose what to do – fight them, talk to them, etc… And you can roll a dice to decide an action, to make the next play. It is always a little bit improvisational, and that’s where the fun comes in!

There are some stigmas around D&D as the last bastion of the nerdy white bloke… But… The situation we had was a 2 hour lecture slot, and I wanted to split that in two. To engage with a reading on the creative opportunities of imagination. I wanted them to make a character, alsmot like creative writing classes, to play that character and see what that felt like, how that changed that… Because part of the fun of role playing is getting to be someone else. Now these games do raise identity issues – gender, race, sexuality… That can be great but it’s not what you want in a big group with people you don’t yet have trust with… But there is something special about being in a space with others, where you don’t know what could happen… It is not a simple thing to take a traditional teaching setting and make it playful… One of the first things we look at when we think about play is people needing to consent to play… And if you impose that on a room, that’s hard…

So early in the course we looked at Erving Goffman’s Frame Analysis, and we used Pictionary cards… We looked at the social cues from the space, the placement of seats, microphones, etc. And then the social cues of play… Some of the foundational work of animal play asks us how you know dogs are playfighting… It’s the half-bite, playful rather than painful… So how do I invite a room full of people to play? I commanded people to play Pictionary, to come up and play… Eventually someone came up… Eventually the room accepted that and the atmosphere changed. It really helped that we had been reading about framing. And I asked what had changed and there were able to think and talk about that…

But D&D… People were sceptical. We started with students making me a character. They made me Englebert, a 5 year old lizard creature… To display the playful situation, a bit silly, to model and frame the situation… Sent them comedy D&D podcasts to listen to and asked them to come back a week later… I promised that we wouldn’t do it every week but… I shared some creative writing approaches to writing a back story, to understand what would matter about this character… Only having done this preparatory work, thought about framing… Only then did I try out my adventure on them… It’s about a masquerade in Camaroon, and children try on others’ masks… I didn’t want to appropriate that. But just to take some cues and ideas and tone from that. And when we got to the role playing, the students were up for it… And we did this either as individual students, or they could pair up…

And then we had a debrief – crucial for a playful experience like this. People said there was more negotiation than they expected as they set up the scene and created. They were surprised how people took care of their characters…

The concluding thing was… At the end of the course I had probably shared more that I cared about. Students interrupted me more – with really great ideas! And students really engaged.

Q&A

Q1) Would you say that D&D would be a better medium than an online role playing game… Exemporisation rather than structured compunction?

A1) We did talk about that… We created a WoW character… There really is a lot of space, unexpected situations you can create in D&D… Lots of improvisation… More happened in that than in the WoW stuff that we did… It was surprisingly great.

Q2) Is that partly about sharing and revealing you, rather than the playfulness per se?

A2) Maybe a bit… But I would have found that hard in another context. The discussion of games really brought that stuff out… It was great and unexpected… Play is the creation of unexpected things…

Q3) There’s a trust thing there… We can’t expect students to trust us and the process, unless we show our trust ourselves…

A3) There was a fair bit of background effort… Thinking about signalling a playful space, and how that changes the space… The playful situations did that without me intending to or trying to!

Digital Game Based Learning in China – Sihan Zhou

I have been finding this event really inspiring… There is so much to think around playfulness. I am from China, and the concept of playful learning is quite new in China so I’m pleased to talk to you about the platform we are creating – Tornado English…

On this platform we have four components – a bilingual animation, a game, and a bilingual chat bot… If the user clicks on the game, they can download it… So far we have created two games: Word Pop – vocabulary learning and Run Rabbit – syntactic learning, both based around Mayer’s model (2011).

The games mechanics are usually understood but comparing user skills and level of challenge – too easy and users will get bored, but if it’s too challenging then users will be frustrated and demotivated. So for apps in China, many of the educational products tend to be more challenging than fun – more educational apps than educational games. So in our games use timing and scoring to make things more playful and interactions like popping bubbles, clicking on moles popping out of holes in the ground. In Word Smash students have to match images to vocab as quickly as possible… In Run Rabbit… The student has to speak a phrase in order get the rabbit to run to the right word in the game and placing it…

When we designed the game, we considered how we could ensure that the game is educationally effective, and to integrate it with the English curriculum in school. We tie to the 2011 English Curriculum Standards for Compulsory Education in China. Students have to complete a sequence of levels to reach the next level of learning – autonomous learning in a systematic way.

So, we piloted this app in China, working with 6 primary schools in Harbin, China. Data has been collected from interviews with teachers, classroom observation, and questionnaires with parents.

This work is a KTP – a Knowledge Transfer Partnership – project and the KTP research is looking at Chinese primary school teachers’ attitudes towards game-based learning. And there is also an MSc TESOL Dissertation looking at teachers attitudes towards game based learning… For instance they may or may not be able to actually use these tools in the classroom because of the way teaching is planned and run. The results of this work will be presented soon – do get in touch.

Our future game development will focus more on a communicative model, task-based learning, and learner autonomy. So the character lands on a new planet, have to find their way, repair their rocket, and return to earth… To complete those task the learner has to develop the appropriate language to do well… But this is all exploratory so do talk to me and to inspire me.

Q&A

Q1) I had some fantastic Chinese students in my playful anthropology course and they were explaining quite mixed attitudes to these approaches in China. Clearly there is that challenge to get authorities to accept it… But what’s the compromise between learning and fun.

A1) The game has features designed for fun… I met with education bureu and teachers, to talk about how this is eduationally effective… Then when I get into classrooms to talk to the students, I focus more on gaming features, why you play it, how you progress and unlock new levels. Emphasis has to be quite different depending on the audience. One has to understand the context.

Q2) How have the kids responded?

A2) They have been really inspired and want to try it out. The kids are 8 or 9 years old… They were keen but also knew that their parents weren’t going to be as happy about playing games in the week when they are supposed to do “homework”. We get data on how this used… We see good use on week days, but huge use on weekends, and longer play time too!

Q3) In terms of changing attitudes to game based learning in China… If you are wanting to test it in Taiwan the attitude was different, we were expected to build playful approaches in…

A3) There is “teaching reform” taking place… And more games and playfulness in the classrooms. But digital games was the problem in terms of triggering a mentality and caution. The new generation uses more elearning… But there is a need to demonstrate that usefulness and take it out to others.

VR in Education – Cinzia Pusceddu-Gangarosa

I am manager of learning technology in the School of Biological Sciences, and also a student on the wonderful MS in Digital Education. I’m going to talk about Virtual Reality in Education.

I wanted to start by defining VR. The definition I like best is from Mirriam Webster. It includes key ideas… the idea of “simulated world” and the ways one engaging with it. VR technologies include headsets like Oculus Rift (high end) through to Google Cardboard (low end) that let you engage… But there is more interesting stuff there too… There are VR “Cave” spaces – where you enter and are surrounded by screens. There are gloves, there are other kinds of experience.

Part of virtual reality is about an intense idea of presence, of being there, of being immersed in the world, fully engaged – so much so that the interface disappears, you forget you are using technologies.

In education VR is not anything new. The first applications were in the 1990s…. But in 200s desktop VR becomes more common – spaces such as Second Life – more acceptable and less costly to engage with.

I want to show you a few examples here… One of the first experiments was from the Institute for Simulation and Training, PA, where students could play “noseball” to play with a virtual ball in a set of wearables. You can see they still use headsets, similar to now but not particularly sophisticated… I also wanted to touch on some other university experiments with VR… The first one is Google Expeditions. This is not a product that has been looked at in universities – it has been trialled in schools a lot… It’s a way to travel in time and space through Google Cardboard… Through the use of apps and tools… And Google supports teachers to use this.

A more interesting experiment is an experiment at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, looking at cognitive effects on students behaviour, and perspective-taking in these spaces, looking at empathy – how VR promotes and encourages empathy. Students impersonating a tree, are more cautious wasting paper. Or impersonating a person has more connection and thoughtfulness about their behaviour to that person… Even an experiment on being a cow and whether that might make them more likely to make them a vegetarian.

Another interesting experiment is at Boston University who are engaging with Ulysses – based on a book but not in a literal way. At Penn State they have been experimenting with VR and tactile experiences.

So, to conclude, what are the strengths of VR in education? Well it is about experience what its not possible – cost, distance, time, size, safety. Also non-symbolic learning (maths, chemistry, etc); learning by doing; and engaging experiences. But there are weaknesses too: it is hard to find a VR designer; it requires technical support; and sometimes VR may not be the right technology – maybe we want to replicate the wrong thing, maybe not innovative enough…

Q&A

Q1) Art Gallery/use in your area?

A1) I would like to do a VR project. It’s hard to understand until you try it out… Most of what I’ve presented is based on what I’ve read and researched, but I would love to explore the topic in a real project.

Q2) With all these technologies, I was wondering if a story is an important accompaniment to the technology and the experience?

A2) I think we do need a story. I don’t think any technology adds value unless we have a vision, and an understanding of full potential of the technology – and what it does differently, and what it really adds to the situation and the story…

Coming up…

Afternoon Keynote: Dr Hamish MacLeod, Senior Lecturer in Digital Education, Institute for Education, Community and Society, Moray House School of Education: Learning with and through Ambiguity (Chair: Cinzia Pusceddu-Gangarosa)

Nicola was talking about her youth and childhood… I will share one too.. I knew all was fine and well, that I was expected… When my primary school teacher, when I was 7, pushed me into the swimming pool. This threat was absolutely no threat… My superpower was to arise miraculously undrowned. That playful interaction was important me, it signalled a relationship, a sign of belonging… A trivial example but…

Playfulness can cement relationships between learners and teachers without judgement. Something similar arose when we ran our eLearning and Digital Cultures MOOC, there was gentle mocking of the team… So for instance there was a video of us as animated Star Trek characters – not just playful but reflecting back to us our ideas… My all time favourite playful response, one of the digital artefacts created, was Andy Mitchell’s intervention… A fake Twitter account, in my name, automatically tweeting cyber security messages. We thouroughly approved and Andy was one of our volunteer tutors on the next run.

Brian Sutton Smith talks about the ambiguity of play, understanding play in both humans and animals, in young and in mature individuals. He came up with 7 rhetorics of play:

  • Play as progress – child development. We talk about children playing, adults engaging in recreation.We can be frivolous as adults but not playful.
  • Play as fate – games of change
  • Play as power – competition and sporting prowess
  • Play as (community) identity, festivals and carnivals
  • Play as the Imaginary and phantasmagorical, narrative and theatrical
  • Play as Self-actualisation
  • Play as Frivolous

For adults play is seen very different. Breugl shows play as time wasting and problematic… But then he also paints children at play…  I commend to you the Wikipedia article on Children playing game – over 80 games defined there and that definition is interesting.

When dogs playfight they prolong “fight”, they self-disable to keep things going… Snapshots don’t tell you it’s playful… But it is. And one give away is the pre-cursor… playful postures, trusting postures… The play context is real. The nip is not a bite, but neither is it not-a-bite… It’s what the bite means (Schechner (1988)). Context is everything. There is a marvellous quote on the about-ness of learning “there is a reason that education is an accusative”.

I was very taken by Jen Ross’ Learning with Digital Provocations talk at the CAHSS Digital Day of Ideas earlier this year. This talk aims to reanimate the debate, framing disruption in terms of “inventiveness, provocation, uncertainty and the concept of ‘not-yetness'”. Disruption says it is revolutionary, but it is not all that revolutionary in it’s reality. We have guru’s of disruption claiming that university is for training students for jobs…

Assuming we aren’t training students for the zombie apocalypse, what are we doing in Higher Education? Well we want our students to behave intelligently, in the sense of Piaget. Or in the sense of Burrhus Frederic Skinner – “Education is what is left when what we have learned has been forgotten”. There are some sorts of skills and mindset for meeting new challenges that they have not met before…

So that mindset, those skills, do have some alignment with Sutton Smith’s ideas of play. And I wanted to show a wonderful local example [a video of Professor Alan Murray – who actually taught me with the innovative and memorable electric guitar/memorable analogies shown in the video].

So, before I move on… Who wants to get the ball into the cup? [cue controlled chaos with three volunteers].

One classic definition of play (Man, Play and Games – Roger Cailois) – it is entered into freely, it has no particular purpose. And again Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper, it has my favourite definition: “the voluntary attempt to overcome unneccessary obstacles”. This is the lusory attitude Nicola talks about… And that is about overlooking efficient solutions simply for

Thank you to Ross Galloway for an example here… Enrico Fermi came up with the idea of Fermi Problems – making informed guesses and estimates for calculations where a solution does not (yet) exist. Estimation is an important skill. Ross’ example was “can we estimate how much it costs to light all of Edinburgh” – students had their own answers… But tutors saw similar and precise results. Of course you can Google “what does it cost to light Edinburgh”. To use that is to miss the point. The students getting that answer and using it don’t get that it is about understanding how to approach the problem, not what the answer is.

But there is a real challenge to find problems that cannot be solved by Google… That ensures there is that space for play and creative approach.

I wanted to give an example here of our MSc in Digital Education module in the Introduction to Digital Games-Based Learning, which was set up with a great deal of input from Fiona Hale, and many Edinburgh colleagues, as well as Nicola Whitton herself and her book Learning with Digital Games. Several other texts key for us is Digital Games Based Learning by Marc Prensky, and James Paul Gee’s What Vide Games have to teach us about learning and literacy. These two books are radically different. Prensky talks about games mediating instead of traditional approaches, as a modern solution. Gee meanwhile suggests drawing on successful principles from games – he argued that learning should become more playful and game informed. I would say that Gee has been firmly on the right side of history… And that’s reflected in the naming of today, of Nicola’s conference, and indeed the recommended new ALT Playful Learning Special Interest Group – which has changed it’s name from games based learning.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be using games in learning… but…

Gee outlines 13 principles, and I’d like to draw out:

  • co-design

Students having agency and taking decisions in their learning, project based, resource based learning, etc. I would say an excellent local example here is the SLICCs – the Student-Led Individually-Created Courses, also Pete Evan’s work on micro credit courses. So this is about agency, ownership. Although learners may need structure and constraint to have agency in this context.

  • Identity and belonging

Identity formation is what happens in education, and also in game (a warlock, a blue hedgehogs, etc.), our law students will become lawyers, our medical students will become doctors. Not to be disrespectful but it can be useful to think about our students as “playing at” being professionals. Lave and Wenger talk about this process, of legitimate peripheral participation. Gee talks about the real, virtual and projective identities… “Saying that if learners in classrooms carry learning so far as to take on a projective identity, something magical happens…” A marvellous example of this, and you can see a video on MediaHopper, of the “white coat ceremony” at the Vet School. The aim is to welcome students into membership of the profession and the community. Certificates are presented, photographs are taken, students then get to put on their white coats for the first time… And then students stand and recite the vet student oath. And then they celebrate with rather staged photographs! And at the end of the year they have a big class photo – in their animal onsies! This is serious fun, this is a right of passage, it is a welcoming into the community. And it symbolises taking on that identity…

  • Fish tanks and
  • Sand boxes

This is about safe space to explore, to play, to experiment. There is a key role for us here in our own practice, but also in how peers may impact on that safety… Sometimes we need to play the fool ourselves, to take the pressure off a student, to take the fire away from someone and reinforcing play as legitimate. This is the idea of “teacher as jester”. Sandboxes are about tinkering, about ideas of brickolage comes in here – as in the constructivism of ? and in Sherry Turkle’s work. And indeed uCreate and 23 Things, space to play and create and have space to think…

It has been said by some students that they don’t enjoy our games-based learning course… And then they do the course design module and then they get it… And in that spirit… I would heartily recommend Charlie Farley and Gavin Willshaw’s Board Game Jams – in one hour there is new language, metaphor, ways to think about what we do in education.

In our course we do also talk about stories…. I’m sure many of you have worked with the notion of role playing, but there are wider and more inclusive approaches in “scenario learning”. One of our former colleagues here, Martin Crapper, talked about environmental enquiry processes and, rather than lecture on it, he actually held an environmental enquiry. The students were engaged, over 2 days, to come with prepared statements as they would as expert witnesses in an environmental enquiry for developers or environmental groups. So rather than read about or think about, they participated.

Another example, a student on our course who teaches at the University of Sunderland, uses a legal appeal around illegally selling cinema tickets. Sophie presents to her students a letter that she asks students to imagines that she found in the archive… In this case the correspondent wants an expert witness in cognitive psychology on parsing and understanding evidence that might be used there.

And briefly… Gamification… This sits in various ways, such as PeerWise. The bit that I think is most useful here isn’t answering questions for peers, but authoring questions. Many of the features here are reminiscent of social networks – you can upvote, follow, engage. There is also a pushback by some students who see this as a trivial experience… A push back to Sutton Smith’s frivolity… And we also have Top Hat – voting on learners old mobile devices, the new equivalent of clickers… Lecture events can be made interactive in this way… Students should be presented with a question, vote on it, and the idea is that when students discuss the question they are more likely to converge on the right answer… What about students who got the right answer right away… What do they talk about? The evidence is that they discuss the problem, other boundary cases… They continue to “play the game” here… They keep that lusory attitude.

I will mention this book – although failure has been well covered – “The art of failure: an essay on the pain of playing video gaes” – Jesper Juul.

So I argue that ALL conceptual learning is accompanied with the sound of pennies dropping… a trickle or a clunk. We talk about threshold concepts, we can see these or recall these as issues we have overcome. All learning involves thresholds and overcoming them. All learning happens in a liminal space, becoming, crossing over, finding the right place to cross over… We may have to try different ways… Often we have to engage actively in doing that which we wish to understand. Papert talks about students learning by doing, and reflecting on what they have done – Brickolage. I would argue this is the territory of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development – I can succeed with the help of a skilled peer, it is the space of apprenticeship… It is scary but if embrace the ambiguity of play we can make learning more successful.

Q&A

Q1) I wanted to ask you about the twin idea of risk and safety. In your talk I don’t know if the playful learning you are talking about should be risky and dangerous, or should it just look like that?

A1) I think perhaps it should be increasingly risky… So that one is supported in taking risks. Gee talks about psychosocial moratorium – young people have permission i the world to screw up! It’s about the consequences, and about our responsibility to protect them from the consequences. As Nicola talked about earlier assessment can be the issue, the barrier to working with our students… But we work up to have more risky engagements.

Q2) I wondered if the bit that isn’t a bite, but isn’t not-a-bite is a kind of parody… That students kind of have to “fake it till they make it”

A2) I want my students play along, to engage in parody and metaphor and play with that, rather than it being tangental illustration, but engaging as if in the real world…

Q3) Especially from your examples, the ease you can find information on Google, that really is changing education. Information is now so easily found, you have to engage people in the process of learning, not of information transfer…

A3) I was very much struck by that example from Ross. That idea we have of working with facts… And that sometimes you don’t want the facts… Students must be capable of trying things they have never done before. And of wanting genuine engagement not just the answer to the problem, but the trajectory towards the solution… How do we set that up as the thing we are doing… Maybe we have to be more explicit about that… We can create tasks around finding stuff… But…  How many of us hate when, in a pub conversation, someone runs to the phone to find the answer to some name you can’t remember… For me I want that solution and I’ll grab the phone… But there some people want that chat, they don’t want the answer… It’s the voluntary espousal of unnecessary obstacles.

Q4) A comment and nice example… I read that meerkats remove the sting from scorpions and give it (the scorpions) to their young so that they can explore without being stung.

Comment) It is true… It’s the only animal, other than humans, that teach in stages… So they will give a scorpion without a sting and work up to the full scorpion…

Q5) Would you apply that need to fail to those teaching them…

A5) I think so, Jen and I have talked about the idea of “successful not-knowing”. Another Ross Galloway example… The student asks a question, with a new example… And he has a better example… So he works through that instead… And he goes wrong… he works back… the students comment from the side… and he moves on… And in his course feedback the students said “we liked it when you made a mistake, we really saw physics being done”. A few years ago at Networked Learning a peaker in favour of the lecture said it was an opportunity for students to see the lecturer “thinking on their feet”… That thinking on their feet is the key bit, the discussion, the extemporising… That’s where I feel comfortable – but others will not. But the risk is absolutely for them (the students), but we have to model that risk and they will respect it when they see it. So again Alan Murray would lose some of his dignity [in his playful approaches], but not respect… He was secure in his position.

And with that we moved out into further breakout sessions… 

Afternoon Break Out Sessions

  • Playful Learning Mini Maker Space – Michael Boyd)
  • 23 Things – Stephanie (Charlie) Farley
  • DIY Film School (Gear and Gadgets) – Stephen Donnelly
  • Gamifying Wikpedia – Ewan McAndrew
  • Near Future Teaching Vox Pops – Sian Bayne

To finish the day we have several more short presentations… 

Presentations (Chair: Ross Ward, Learning Technology Advisor (ISG Learning, Teaching & Web Services))

Learning to Code: A Playful Approach – Areti Manataki

I’m a senior researcher in the School of Informatics. And I’ve been quite active in teaching children how to programme both online and offline. My research is in AI, rather than education, so I’m here to share with you and to learn from you.

So Code Yourself! was a special programme that ran in both English and Spanish, organised by University of Edinburgh and University of Uraguay. The whole idea was to introduce programming to people with little or no experience of coding. We wanted to emphasise that it’s fun, it’s relevant to the real world. and anyone can have a go!

We covered the basics of algorithms and control structures, computational thinking, software engineering and programming in scratch. This was for young teenagers and set real challenges, with some structure, using scratch. And we included real life algorithms – like how to make a sandwich – and we had a strong visual elements thanks to the UoE MOOCs production team. And it was all about having fun, including building your own games of all types… Like hunting ghosts, or plants vs zombies…

The forum turns out to be a really important space in the MOOCs. We encouraged them to use the forums, to discuss, and we included tasks and discussions in the weekly emails… So we would say, go to the discussion boards to teach an alien how to brush his teeth Or draw and object and have people guess what it is about.

The course has been running a couple of years, our reach has been good… We have had over 110k participants and 2881 course completers. There are slightly more men than women. The age profile varies, though higher amongst young people than typical Coursera course. And older audiences enjoyed the programming. And we asked if they plan to programme again in the future, many plan to and that’s brilliant, that’s what I hoped for.

We’ve also been running coding workshops at the Edinburgh International Science Festival, having a go and trying to build their own game… We’ve had games with dinosaurs flying over cars! And they seem to enjoy it – and excitement levels are high! Many of these kids are familiar with scratch, but they liked the freedom to play.

And since the MOOC was working for adults, we’ve tweaked it and run the course for students and staff. Again, it came out as being fun!

We now want to reach out to more people. I actually do this in my own time, I’m passionate about it and want to reach young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, and teachers who can use this in the classroom!

Q&A

Q1) You commented that it was aimed at young people but also that Coursera’s audience aren’t really that young. Is the course running on demand? What’s the support?

A1) We first launched in March 2016 as a session. Then moved in August to monthly sessions, with learners encouraged to move to the next session if they haven’t completed. I was a bit scared when we moved to that phase in terms of support. But Coursera has launched the mentors scheme, where previous learners who enjoyed the course can get involved more actively on discussion boards. They do a fantastic job and learners are supported.

Q2) Is there a platform aimed at a younger audience?

A2) I’m not sure. The Uraguay university have experience in online teaching with youngsters and they designed their own platform – and it didn’t look that different. But I do think the style needs to be more appropriate.

Q3) You talked about working with younger audiences – who maybe encounter coding in schools, and your Coursera audiences and those young people’s parents may be seeing code from their kids or from professional contexts… Have you looked at teaching for an older audience who tend to be less digitally engaged in general?

A3) Yes, we did have some older MOOC takers… And they are amongst the most enthusiastic and they share their stories with us. We have done an online session with older people too and as long as you make them feel safe, and able to use the technology, that’s half the battle. When they are confident they are some of the most enthusiastic participants!

Enriched engagement with recorded lectures – John Lee

I’m going to talk about enriching recorded lectures and thinking about how we can enrich recordings with other content… This work is now turning into a PTAS project with colleagues in Informatics.

Rich media resources are increasingly recorded and created with the intention of using them for teaching and learning. And recorded lectures are perhaps most obvious example of such materials. We capture content, but an opportunity feels like it is being lost here, there is so much opportunity if we can integrate these into some new ecology of materials in an interesting way.

So, what’s the problem with doing that?  We have tools for online editing, annotation, linking to resources… These are not technically difficult to do… The literature captures lots of approaches and systems, and often positive experiences, but you don’t then seem to see people going on to use them in teaching and learning… And that includes me actually. Somehow it seems to be remarkably difficult… Perhaps interfaces are somehow not yet optimal for educational uses. If you look at YouTube’s editor… It works nicely… But not a natural thing to use or adapt to an educational context… Perhaps if we can design easier ways to present and interact with rich media, it can be more successful.

And maybe part of this is about making it more fun! It could be that doing this kind of work isn’t neccassarily playful… But working with these kinds of materials should be assisted by playful approaches. And one ways to do that is to bring in more diverse sources and resources, bringing in YouTube, Vimeo… Bringing in playful content… Perhaps we can also crowdsource more content creation, more content from students themselves… And build content creation hand in hand with content use… Designing learning activities that implicate and build on use and creation of rich media, like Lynda.com for instance..

So, I’ve been building a prototype based on APIs from various places, just built with Javascript. We have tried this out on a course called “Digital Playgrounds for the Online Public” (Denitsa Petrova). Students found it interesting and raised various issues… Again I’m following this tradition of trying things out, seeing it is interesting… But I now want to avoid the trap of not going any further with it… How? Partly by integrating with student projects – informatics and Digital Media students – to design ways to combine this media in new and different ways. Some real possibilities there…

Q&A

Q1) I really like this idea. I trialled an idea with new students around writing up lecture notes, uploading, sharing, upvoting, comments… A few students tried it and then it fell off exponentially. But one student kept it going all year – and apologised if he didn’t share his notes… But in future years no one did that… You are talking about taking up a lecture and scaling up and building on… But students sometimes want to go the other way… What else will you add for uptake.

A1) That’s a really good point. The ideas in our proposal tackle that head on. We want to design learning activities that produce and build on those recordings – by creating resources, linking content together… The idea if that you leave them to do it by themselves, they often won’t. But also if we structure it into the course itself, it becomes a learning process, and reflect on the course itself. So the lecture material may be used in a flipped classroom type of way… So they take from and work with the video, rather than just watch it. Sometimes we use pre-recorded content and that needs to be part of the picture too… Engagement is always more difficult… We want to foster engagement, and if we can do that the rest should fall into place.

DIY Filmschool and Media Hopper (MoJo) – Stephen Donnelly

I’m Stephen Donnelly and I work with the Media Team in LTW. I’ll talk about some of what we do…

The idea for the DIY Film School came from MoJo – the idea of Mobile Journalism… And how journalism is changing because of technology… The idea is that we are so used to seeing media on YouTube, filmed on a mobile phone… There’s no point commenting on production values when we see that. We are so used to seeing mobile footage used in broadcast. There are two reasons for this… The way we view media has changed, but also we now all have mobile devices. We all have a mobile phone… And broadcasters have figured that out. And most news stories now have a video element in there… So we wanted to help others to engage in that.

So, how did we get here…

I used to work with the BBC and we had gotten to the point where you sent our producers and cameramen… You probably take videos all the time and share them online… But you get to a professional context and everything changes… But you can shoot your own stuff. So we have purchased some inexpensive kit that works with your existing device – mics, rigs, lenses. And, in addition, we run a DIY film school. It teaches the basics of film making – that apply no matter what you use to film… Framing, being stable, how to zoom, lighting and shooting in appropriate light… And audio. People often forget about audio and actually, people tolerate bad video but you really need good audio… And how to be prepared when doing a shot.

So, after you’ve made your amazing films from DIY Film School where do you put it? Well we have MediaHopper… And you can do really cool stuff – store your content, share your content, etc.

I have a few examples of films made with the DIY film gear… So here we have a “how to” video for shooting an interview with two mobile cameras so that you can cut between the two shots – a simple interview set up. Another option here, a video on “Life after Cardiac Arrest” – they had commissioned out before, now shooting themselves, upskilling the team, and they make some really really nice stuff. And lastly is a video by Michael Seery who has students making videos – in this case how to use a UV-vis spectrophotometer. It’s all about the content and not about the technology.

Q&A

Q1) How much do those mobile rigs tend to cost?

A1) These are in the region of £100 for a steadycam rig… I could put a target on John, say, and it will follow him. It’s so cheap compared to what we would have purchased in the past. Nothing is more than ~£100 – you can buy lots rather than one camera. And you can loan out our rigs too. You guys have all the best content, it’s getting you guys to use it…

Q2) Have you

A2) We had a colleague working in archives, wanting to capture the process… They were doing it through pictures… and making their own videos has changed how they communicate their work… And MediaHopper has changed how academic colleagues are sharing their work in lots of ways, not just DIY Film School…

Q3) Great to see how easy things are now. One of the things that we are keen to do in the School of Education is adding captions. That’s easy on YouTube, how about in MediaHopper?

A3) We are running a pilot at the moment. Including manual and automated captions. The latter is easier but more hit and miss. Get in touch to get involved.

Closing Remarks – Prof. Sian Bayne, Moray House School of Education

Nicola and team asked me to close the content. The theme of the conference feels spot on at the end of a busy and exhausting year. Today has been a lovely reminder to bring playfulness into our everyday lives. Thank you to our fantastic speakers Nicola and Hamish, to colleagues who have presented, and run breakouts and posters all day!

Thank you to Nicola, this is her last conference as convener so huge thanks. Thank you to Ross Ward. To Charlie Farley. To Susan Greig. To Ruby Rennie. And also to Marshall Dozier. And a special thank you to Cinzia Pusceddu-Gangarosa who I know Sian also meant to thank in her talk. 

And I want to invite everyone left to come and drink wine and eat cheese as a very very informal leaving do for Hamish who is retiring. Thank you to everyone for everything, and for coming!

And with that we are done… And I’m off to drink wine and eat cheese…