Wednesday, October 17, 2012

It's game on with virtual learning tools at eChallenges in Lisbon

This week I’m in Lisbon for the eChallenges event. This morning’s session was about technology enhanced learning – apparently things have changed a great deal since I was at school some time back in the early middle ages. It’s not surprising – as Manuel Oliveira of Sintef put it, the digital natives are coming! He told us how his 3 year old has appropriated the family tablet PC and tries to change channels on the TV by swiping the screen. His 2 year old shouts at the landline handset from across the room because she’s so used to Skype. Clearly, learning from a dry and dusty text book is not going to have much appeal once that generation gets to school.

Fortunately, there are some exciting new environments and methodologies already in the pipeline. E-ScienceTalk is already working with the GLOBALexcursion project, which aims to provide an extended and enhanced school curriculum for science infrastructure online. The main access point is the Virtual Science Hub – ViSH. It contains a selection of e-Infrastructures, a social network where scientists and teachers will be able to exchange and establish collaborations, and a virtual excursion room, where pupils will be able to experience real e-science applications in areas of high relevance for the future, such as nano- and bio-technologies, volunteer computing, and life sciences. For students, they gain an insight into real life scientific work in an engaging virtual environment.

Gordon Ingram of the University of Bath introduced us to the concept of a ‘serious game’. Not a contradiction in terms, this is a game that is primarily designed for a purpose other than pure entertainment ie to educate or train. The SIREN project brings the serious game into a pretty serious field – improving conflict resolution skills for 9 to 12 year olds. The project brings together psychologists, teachers and game designers, using input and evaluation from the target age group. This involved exploring areas like playground games, friendship problems, bullying/teasing and property disputes. Perhaps surprisingly, the reactions to conflict from children in 3 different countries – UK, Portugal and Greece – had many similarities. Anger was one emotion you might expect them to feel, but sadness was the most common.

Out of this research have come two pilot games. 'Village Voices' is multi player game set in a medieval village. The children can opt to play different characters, dealing with situations that might lead to conflict, for example competition for resources. 'My Dream Theatre' is single player game where the player manages a set of characters engaged in putting on a play – perfect for any budding Steven Spielbergs out there. Initially the games will be available in a classroom setting, but online multiplayer versions may be available in the future. Personally, I can’t wait to test it out on my own pair of little conflict generators at home.

Adults of course aren’t exactly strangers to conflict either but the Target project focuses more on providing a general virtual learning space for individuals and enterprises. The temptingly named Lounge is a virtual social space where learners can interact with one another through avatars and use the facilities to hold virtual meetings. The Lounge links to a Knowledge Ecosystem Navigator (KEN), which is the component responsible for the visual navigation of the online stories and associated experiences. Learners also have access to a chat tool, can share presentations and documents. E-ScienceTalk of course also has its own virtual world, the e-ScienceCity where visitors can explore areas focusing on cloud computing, grid computing and volunteer computing. Visit to find out more!

No comments: