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Preview: Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activities

Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activities

Please share my journey into the investigation of how to improve the procedure of known (or new) pedagogical activities for asynchronous delivery.

Updated: 2015-09-17T01:48:01.933+10:00


Online debate


The Economist is hosting an online debate in the spirit of Oxford-style debate. The online variant is
1. the debate is no longer a team sport. Each side is represented by ONE speaker only.
2. There are three chances to advance the case (just like the traditional debate) but are published at the same time.
3. The floor are welcome to comment and vote at any time. Comment should be addressed to the moderator. [The website is not explicit whether the debaters are able to see the comment at real time.]
4. The final result is determined by the votes.

The first debate is on "he continuing introduction of new technologies and new media adds little to the quality of most education". The proposition is Sir John Daniel, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Commonwealth of Learning and the opposition is Dr Robert Kozma, Emeritus Director and Principal Scientist at SRI International.

Schedule of events

Oct 15th: Proposition revealed. Debate begins.

Oct 18th: Rebuttals posted.

Oct 23rd: Closing arguments.

Oct 26th: Final winner announced.



According to the website:
Share what you make and how others can make it.

by using photos and short descriptions.

This is a great place to start if you want to try some DIY projects. The projects listed in the site varies a lot - so anyone should find something interesting to try.

The subtitle of the site is "step-by-step collaboration". Technically, it is not collaboration. It is sharing.

cross posted to Random Walk in Learning

Collaborative tools


Here is a list of selected collaborative tools currently available to anyone free from the webs:

Document writing
Zoho writer

Numbler [via MasterMind Explorer Issue 162]
Google Spreadsheet
Num Sum
and many more from a google search.

Drawing Tools
Google SketchUp A 3D modeling tool
ajaxSketch and Gliffyare web-based drawing tools that provide an environment for diagramming, creating flow charts.
Mikon vector-based drawing and sharing enabled.

Notes sharing
Google Notebook

Please send me more links to make this more comprehensive.

cross posted to Random Walk in Learning

Collaborative Learning Activities Using Social Software Tools


via Virtual Canuck

The above document is actually created on writely reported here. Hence those with edit rights can modify the document. (A trim-down version of wiki???)

This is a fairly comprehensive list of "collaborative" tasks, among some of which interestingly, there are some activities to done by sololy. I think such solo task is important - such as introduction of the participants to the group. This is followed by a "who's who" activity - a kind of ice-breaking activity.

I have taken a quick look at the current blog, few minutes before I write this post and found that there were 25 posts, 7 were submitted by Donna Cameron or Terry Anderson (the course lecturers, I suppose) and the rest by 6 other people. Of course, I don't know the size of the cohort and hence very difficult to say whether the participation pattern of this blog is similiar to discussion forums (lots of lurkers and few active participants). Also I do not know the stage of the course and hence it may be at its early introduction stage. May be the authors can enlighten me.

There is a jigsaw activity included in the list. However, it seems that there is no distance technology to support the expert groups.

A note to potential adopter of this design: As it is obviously part of a course, there is an implicit timeline which serves to get most participants to work in approximately the same pace. If you are to adopt this design and if the participants may be spanning over very different time scale, it may not work. For example, it would be very difficult to enter the social group if a participant join a few months after the start. (At least, the late-comer will have a long blog to read before able to know the norms of the group, and worse still, blogs are posted in reverse chronological order, making the reading even more difficult.)

Using puzzle as Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activity


Here is a puzzle for you:

What is this, you may ask. Well it is Twisted-Pair Puzzles suggested in this month's PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE by Thiagi. The good thing is that it is generated by software. How to solve that, read Thiagi's example.

The idea behind the puzzle is to keep the player to really think hard. Once the player solved the puzzle, the message in the puzzle will be inprinted in the player's mind. So this method can be used in many different subject or discipline.

Better still, I believe it can be used as an ACOLLA (Asynchronous Collaborative Learning Activity). Why the teacher/lecturer/instructor has to create the puzzle in the first place? Why can't we just name the topic and get the players to generate the puzzle, mix them and redistribute for other to solve? Creating the puzzle, ie finding the message, is another good learning opportunity.

Now, back to the puzzle at the beginning of this post. It is still bothering you, right? Here is a hint: This is the key message I wanted to say in my post, in Random Walk in eLearning. OK, you want to cheat. Here is the answer:
to provide a safe environment for people to experiment and test out


Real time collaborative notes taking


After writely and writeboard, I found another interesting collaborative writing tool called jotlive. From the website:
JotSpot Live allows you, your colleagues or clients to take notes together on the same web page at the same time. Imagine everyone simultaneously typing and editing the same Microsoft Word document and you'll get the idea.

More importantly, jotlive manipulates your document on a line by line basis. Almost immediately after you save, the change is reflected to the other group members' screen. (Since it is a line-based tool, it would be nice to automatically do the save function.) The line can be dragged up and down. By double clicking a line, you can edit as well.

Very simple and effective interface.

Again, you can use jotlive for free, limited to 5 pages per month.

If you have Internet connection in your lecture room, your students can take notes collaboratively. :-)

Collaborative writing tool - writely, writeboard, wiki


I seldom write solo. Except these blogs, all my work have been collaborative efforts.

I am also Linus-style write: release-often and changes often.

If I initiated a paper, typically, I wrote a paragraph or two and sent to my collaborators who made edits and added ideas and more paragraphs. We did that as many times as we felt appropriate (or when the deadline came). Then we submitted the paper.

The tool we used was Word and Email. For Word, we turned the tracking on. After a few turns, the first author would clean up - removing the tracking and start again. Each draft was sent to the collaborator(s) by email. We usually responded promptly.

There are alternatives. Wiki is well known.

There are two which I found out recently: and 37signals has a good comparison of them.

With both writeboard and writely free (at least for the time being), teachers can get their student so write collaboratively. Hey, remember to give them more time because collaboration takes more time, but definitely will improve the quality of the work. This is also an experience students will need as they enter the work place in the future.

Scalability of Human Mentors and Coaches


Bill Bruck took issues with a comment I made to his article on Building Interactivity Into E-Learning. Specifically, it is about the scalability of human mentors and coaches. See his comment here.

It is not clear from my original comment (my fault) that I actually support the return of having human elements in any learning process, whether technology-supported or mediated or otherwise. I see great value in the interaction between learners and human mentors/coaches.

When I read the section on "Apprenticing" in Bill's article, I have formed an opinion about what Bill meant by coaching and mentoring. The original paragraph is:

Many skills benefit from ongoing coaching over time, for example, account executives mastering a new solution sell approach. Group action learning projects are often used as stretch assignments in leadership training. Team workspaces can now effectively support such especially when they integrate discussion boards with email for collaboration, and tracking mechanisms for participation.

At the time, I assumed wrongly that the mentoring and coaching process is a one-to-few relationship (something like 1 to 5, in my mind at that time) where a mentor/coach actually works closely with a group of learners/apprentice. I also noted that Bill talked about "ongoing coaching over time". Hence I commented that it will not scale. The technical support mechanism mentioned is "discussion boards with email" both of which are collaborative tools, without a description of the process of how this would happen.

I continued to describe an alternate process (using role play simulation) and articulated that the process of getting a team to play ONE role will force a certain of level of learning because

As a team playing a role, the team needs to maintain a consistent role personality, tones, tactics and strategy. Such a requirement will force the team member to articulate their ideas among the team member critically. Team members will also review each proposed eaction critically in order to achieve the best outcome for the role.

I have forgotten to mention the technology (or collaborative tools) which support this team-based playing of a role. :-)

In this case, since the human element is the moderator of the role play simulation, the job of the moderator is quite different from the mentor/coach. As such, the human moderator to learner ratio is higher (about 1 to 100).

I am really excited to see that Bill was able to provide

coaching to 2,500 managers in writing SMART performance objectives over a six-week period.

Obviously I would like to read the case study of how this may be done as Bill's process is much more scalable than mine.

I agree whole-heartedly that "person-to-computer interaction only gets you so far".

Spontaneous Groups


by Rob Reynolds

... thinking about the natural selections of groups in education. No one made any of these kids or parents sit where they did. No one made them choose the instrument they play. And no one made me sit with these other parents. Through a variety of decisions and choices we all ended up with self-selecting communities. It happened naturally and with little real thought.

This is what we human beings do. We socialize. We get into groups of people who, at some level, seem to resemble us. We do it consistently. We do it naturally.

Rob went on to say,

that's why technologies that support learners' tendencies towards self organization are so important. Blogs and wikis allow users to create their own clusters (joining and unjoining) whether those clusters make any sense to me or not, and whether I think those are the ideal clusters for learning or not. As these groups or clusters form spontaneously, their communication and the information they share become an important part of the learning environment.

Of course, if we're smart, we'll realize that this happens with or without our permission, and we'll actually embrace the energy and learning potential inherent the phenomenon.

That got me thinking. Should we assist the students to organise their groupings (and that in a way will interfere with natural process)? or should we just leave it for them to occur naturally?

A lot of the Blogs and Wikis are available free, e.g. the blogging platform of this one is from Blogger which is free to anyone. We don't exactly need to provide the technology or platform for the students. They, when required, will find the platform and use the technology. As Rob noted correctly, back channels, with or without the help and notice of the teacher, occur naturally and such back channels are a very important part of the learning process. The question is whether teacher should or should not do about the back channels, and if yes, what to do about them.

I find this quite similar to the discussions of "formalizing informal learning". Once you formalise the informal learning, is it still informal learning? How would this process interfere with the original informal learning's effectiveness?

Free the Curriculum


Jimbo Wales, writing as a guest blogger in lessig blog, is in the process of revealing his list of 10 things that will be free. Being the "Wikipedia guy", his first prediction is free Encyclopia, as in wikipedia.

His second prediction is free the curriculum:
a complete curriculum (in all languages) from Kindergarten through the University level.

I will be very concerned, as shared by a comment made by Bill Korner, that if this "complete curriculum" is ONE unified curriculum and "in all languages" means that ONE curriculum being translated into different languages.

James Schmeling commented that such an effort must include licensure and certification. I don't think so. Learning is a personal experience. Curriculum resource is only part of the material to create the experience. Learning can exist without external motivation such as certification AND some will require certification too. I don't see any of the two named by James as essential to the Free the Curriculum effort.

There are many people pointing out existing efforts to provide free textbook and curriculum. I have a quick visit to some of the suggested sites. Some look promising, but mostly very small scale project at this time.

Their Grades Are Higher, but Are They Learning?


Their Grades Are Higher, but Are They Learning?: Examining the Impact of Cooperative Testing on Individual Learning by Theresa R. Castor.

In this paper, the author describes an experiment where she examines "how does cooperation translate into individual learning".

The students were asked to do the quiz individually first. Then the students went into groups and each group was to do the same quiz again with discussion among the group members. Then students may choose to "re-do" a subset of the quiz and asked to explain the result for the change of answer for these questions. The design objective was to look at the explanation provided by the students in order to gain an insight into the how the cooperation translate into individual learning.

In the conclusion, there are some of the benefits pointed out by the author:
the student responses show some of the different ways that group interaction benefited the understanding of various students. For example, the discussions helped in triggering other students' memories by reminding them of specific examples and explanations for concepts provided from classroom lessons. Also, the cooperative testing situation helped students to view questions and answers from different perspectives through the discussion with their peers. The discussions and opportunity for re-doing responses helped students to define concepts more precisely.

The structure proposed here has merit when used as a learning process. Given sufficient time in the second phrase (while students were attempting quiz in group), discussion among the group member will foster significant learning outcome. The pre-test serves a way to minimize time during the group process because obviously, there will be little discussion among the group members if everyone agrees on the same answer. This can serve to filter out the common understood part of the curriculum.

Building Interactivity Into E-Learning


Bill Bruck points out that the e-learning industry today has a problem. Specifically, Most e-learning replicates the worst practices of education electronicallyand very much in line with my complaint of the limited "choice space": Even when the courses are not mere page-turners, “interactive” is defined as choice points in the software, with pre-defined answers provided for pre-defined choices. “Evaluation” most often consists of is simple recall/recognition quizzes - the lowest skills in the learning hierarchyHe continues to elaborate on a "Five-Step Model for High Impact Learning":1 Content2 Q&A: Adult learners need to map conceptual content to their own frameworks and understand how it works in their situations. 3 Practice: Many skills are best learned when they can be practiced a safe training environment. If a skill involves critical thinking or written documentation, it can be effectively practiced in small groups within discussion forums that are optimized for learning, and coaching can be provided in this same manner. ...4 Apprenticing: Many skills benefit from ongoing coaching over time, ...5 Teaching: All of these techniques and technologies lend themselves to graduates serving as coaches and mentors of successive cohorts of learners, to hone their own skills and prepare for career advancement where coaching others is a critical skill, ... [underline are mine]I have underlined a few points which I would like to elaborate on.I have noted here1 and elsewhere that the concept of a cohort of learners have been missing in learning technology community. Without the ability to identify a group of learners who have similar needs and willing to learn at approximately the same pace, there is little opportunity of collaborative learning. Ad hoc formation of learning group is fine, but for the complete duration of a task, the group has to work together in an agreed time frame.Another point I noted in Bill's article is the returning to human mentor and/or teacher. This is a good point, but not very scalable for large scale implementation. While running parallel small groups is prefectly scalable both technically and pedagogically, engaging a large number of mentors, or a single human mentor to look after a large number of groups is not scalable.In our role play simulation, while we acknowledge the need of moderator, however, the main "mentoring" does not fall squarely on the moderator's shoulder. Moderator should act and intervene at slightly as possible. The learning process is activated via team playing a single role. As a team playing a role, the team needs to maintain a consistent role personality, tones, tactics and strategy. Such a requirement will force the team member to articulate their ideas among the team member critically. Team members will also review each proposed eaction critically in order to achieve the best outcome for the role.By removing this additional mentor, our design is more scalable than what is proposed by Bill.1My other papers on SCORM implementation can be found at cohort collaborative learning [...]

Setting limits on the number of posts by students in discussion forum


When online courses are taught using discussion forums, it is common for teachers to set minimum number of posts requirement.

In a discussion forum (ITForm), I suggested, instead, set a maximum on the number of posts by the learners.

My reasoning goes something like this.

1. Obligation of participation is implicit. As participants for a credit-earning course, they have their own motivation and reason to take a particular course. The students know that to get the credit, they need to participate. No need for the teacher to play around with this one.
2. Part of the participation is that there will be work required. One common mistake in setting tasks is setting tasks that serve no purpose to the learner, appear to be a task for the task's sake, or even worse, the task is for the sake of the teacher. In other words, the task does not make sense for the learners in turns of promoting learning.
3. An artificial lower limit on the number of posts in a discussion forum is completely arbitrary. Why 3, or 5 or whatever number you set? What we should be looking for is "quality" in the posts, not quantity! Setting a lower limit as a hurdle requirement does not promote quality and may be viewed as a requirement for the sake of a requirement.
4. Setting an upper limit, on the other hand, serve a REAL purpose. Reduce the workload of the teacher. If every students make 10 posts per day, in a class of 20, that would be 200 posts per day. How can a human cope with that volume?
5. As a rule of thumb, online post should only deal with a single issue each. Setting an upper limit also forces the learners to prioritise the issues at any time and put in effort, thinking and reflection, to create quality posts on the issue at hand.

What about if there is no post in the discussion forum? Is that a problem?

Yes, it is a BIG problem if there is no participation.

If the learners are there, waiting for the teacher to initiate and only response to the teacher's question, of course, it is very likely that there will be no discussion at all.

If we subscribe to a constructivitic approach to learning, we understand that the ownership of the learning process belongs to the learner. We need to "seed" the forum with issues, step aside as a facilitator and let the learners take initiatives. It may seem difficult. One easy way to start is to delegate different issue to different students and ask them to be discussion leader for the controversial issue. Another way is to start with concrete scenario where the learners can bring in their previous experience and start from there.

cheap film and sneaky teaching


By using free software and inexpensive digital camera, Steve Brooks shows us how to ask the students to produce a video. That would be great fun and LOTS of things to learn. The technology is the minor objective here. As Steve correctly points out,
Students frequently know how to do the tasks, they just lack the ability to take a big problem (or opportunity) and break it down into its piece parts (lifecycle phases). By giving them a fun but challenging project and a methodology or “tool” to complete it, you will help them learn how to manage other challenging parts of their lives.

Want to post your students' final production for public viewing, consider some free media hosting such as Internet Archive or OurMedia. Freevlog has a step by step tutorial to show you how (or show your students how).

Ideas on asynchronous pull technologies in course design


Eric Tremblay in his e-Learning Acupuncture blog posted a list of very interesting and useful ideas of asynchronous learning activities which are basically ACOLLA (asynchronous collaborative learning activities). Instead of repeating all his wonderful ideas here, please go and visit his page.

I totally agree with him that
So the permutations and combinations of asynchronous learning activities and resource presentations are almost endless. Some work better than others. Simple designs work best and up-front grading rubrics guide the DE students in a clear fashion.
[my emphasis]

Students giving feedback to each other, guided by check lists and criteria (as rubrics perhaps), can serve two purposes:
1. another opportunity for students to reflect on the subject matter (in an objective role of providing positive and constructive ideas),
2. provide a pointer for the teachers to grade the work. (Well, you may choose to aggregate the grades provided by the students to be the final grade of the work, why not?)

The responsibility of maintaining the dialogue is now shifted into the activities themselves. You may also reduce your continuous solicitation of contributions to the forum.

Isn't this a wonderful idea? Brilliant!



via Multiple ChoiceThe referred blog in PEDABLOGUE is prompted by an ad looking for writer to write a term paper.Dear Freelancers!Recent Projects:4/21/2005 - #21192 Foucault Philosophy Term Paper ...Article/News/Press Release Writing/Editing I need a writer to write a 25-page term paper (double-spaced) on Foucault's philosophy. I have an article that contains all the ideas that are needed to write this paper. However, those ideas need to be re-written so this term-paper is original. Please provide quote me a flat-fee to for this service. The author, Michael Arnzen, is concerned the plagiarism is a growing trend. He has written an article about how teachers can try to prevent plagiarism which has several technical suggestions and approaches. However, I feel that Michael has not attacked the issue at its root.From the opening of the how teachers can try to prevent plagiarismpost,frustration with students who don't realize that they're only cheating themselves out of learning experiences, anger at the audacity of students who proudly plagiarise, vindication when the students who in the early segments were claiming ethical high ground were confronted with their own cheating by a surprise 'trap' that a teacher sprung on them... I don't believe students do not know that cheating is cheating themselves out of the learning experiences provided that it is a worthwhile experience. The problem is that students do not see the writing of a term paper has anything to do with their learning. They are frustrated with yet another work for the teacher. They don't see the need or the value of writing a term paper. So, in order to solve the problem at hand, they seek outside help. These students may be very successful later in their lives only to find out it would be better to have written the term papers themselves. But, I am quite sure that these are successful people because they are resourceful.The fundamental problem here is the perceived value of the task related to the learning at hand. If the students see the value, they will do it. If they don't, those "clever" ones will find a way around it. Technology is only making this easier.I am writing this post in this blog (rather than my usual Random Walk because I think the solution has two parts, a meaningful assignment (which the students will see the value of doing the task) and an audience to write to.I don't understand why a term paper, written by the students in days or weeks, should only be read by a person (may be another teacher for cross checking). If you know that what you are writing is not going to be read, what will you do? Reflecting on this, we need to create an audience. The best audience is the peers. Their fellow students understand the among of work involved in the paper. Their fellow students are interested in how their peers think about the topic. Their fellow students are "in the same boat". They form the best audience. They form the best critics. Why don't we open up and let the peers review, comment and critic the work.Tagged as Plagiarism[...]

Primer on Small World Networks


via Full Circle Online Interaction Blog by Nancy White.

This beautifully illustrated primer explains how "6 degrees of connectivity" works by a convincing animation.

I have always pondering the question of the optimal size of a collaborative learning group. On one hand, the global connectivity and the communication technology have provided us with unique opportunities to reach out and collaborate with a very large number of collaborators. On the other hand, human attention and cognitive processing is small. We can optimally handle up to 7 to 8 "mental units" at a time. This may explain why we typically have a small group working together very well.

In designing collaborative learning activities, should we aim for large scale collaboration or focus on small manageable collaborative learning activities? I am not any wiser, won't be any time soon. But the quest will continue.

Is blogging a learning activity?


(image) Teens are embracing blogs, see survey by Perscus and the result shown on the right.

Educators are investigating whether blogging can be a useful education tool or media, e.g. Getting started with blogging in education. Just like many educators are embracing games based on the fact that teenagers are so much attracted to games, there is a fine line we need to draw. We need to know what actually attracted the players [see Learning to Play to Learn - Lessons in Educational Game Design]. I guess we also need to know what is "bloggedness". We need to investigate the content of these teens' blogs in order to understand what captures the teenagers' devotion to their blogs. Before that, we can guess how to use blogs without any solid basis for doing that.

Student-to-Student interaction in Online Science Courses


Although the title said "Online Science Courses", I believe it is suitable for many other non-science courses too.



Greasemonkey is a Firefox extension which lets you to add bits of DHTML ("user scripts") to any webpage to change it's behavior. In much the same way that user CSS lets you take control of a webpage's style, user scripts let you easily control any aspect of a webpage's design or interaction.
[my emphasis]

Since its version 0.2.5 (the installed version on my Firefox is the current 0.2.6) has the added function to do cross-domain xmlhttpRequest. [For the non-technical readers, xmlhttpRequest allows the script to connect to another website and gets back result. Previously, it is blocked by browser because of security concerns.]

A good demonstration of this ability is annotate Google. This user script (as it is called in the GreaseMonkey parlance) adds two additional links after the result title from Google and a xml icon before the title if there is a rss feed. Cool! See the images stolen from the author's site.

There is a great potential in using GreaseMonkey to implement some collaborative learning activities. I shall post some examples here once I have the time to develop them.

Animated Characters with PowerPoint Challenge


Well, the deadline has passed. I received NO submission to the challenge.

Is it too hard? Is it not interesting enough? Is the deadline too soon? Is the prize too small? Is the technique you can learn from the challenge not worth putting in any effort? Are you too busy? Is the timing of the challenge at the wrong time?

I have no clue!

But this illustrates a typical scenario of "informal" learning - we may have a lot of lurkers, but only a very small percentage of the participants will do something.

This is what this blog is about. How can we design activities that can solicit a more general participations? In a formal learning environment, that's relatively easy. You enforce the need to handing in assignment. In informal situation like this, what can you do? Any suggestion is welcome.

Are blogs good for education?


Bill Bruck wrote in his blog,

Well, they aren't awful. They are fashionable right now, and so may gain learner acceptance. They get learners to write, which is inherently good, and to express their opinions - which may or may not be a good thing. But there's a fundamental problem with blogs: They are essentially optimized for easily publishing one’s opinions on the web. This is fundamentally a flawed model for education. It promotes narcissism, not dialog.

[my emphasis]

I generally agree with Bill's overall argument (please read the rest of the post for his argument). However, the conclusion that blog (or any collaborative tool) is fundamentally flaw for education is something which I disagree. I have made a clear distinction between collaborative tool and collaborative learning activity, see my first post to this blog. Hence I call this blog "Collaborative Learning Activities" which I look at how collaborative tools can be used for supporting Collaborative Learning Activities. It is the instructional (or learning) design which create the learning context and it is the tools which enable such design to be delivered. Yes, you should not use a hammer for everything. Some tools are better to handle a task than others. Following the linked discussion forum to Bill's post, a reader, Denham Grey, wrote,
There is some synergy to having all 3 forms (blogs, Wiki and bulletin boards) available to students. Here is how I see the play:

Bulletin boards:
Stay away from the dreaded threaded stuff. Include participation metrics in the grading system (originality, reciprocity, frequency, constructivism) not just me too / I agree comments.

Students should be requited to compile their e-portfolios, gather important links, keep a homepage, maintain rough notes, be open to annealing and refractoring practices. Collaborative writing is an important component of group work and a key skill in today's business word.

Encourage opinion diversity within a class. Provide 'protection' and a sense of permanency to timid voices. There needs to be some agreed social practice to summarize and synthesize those diverse opinions.

Now, we are starting to see how these tools can be used in educational setting. Here is another use suggested by David W. Locke:

What if blogs were used to keep class notes? I'm not saying do this, so that some students wouldn't need to keep notes. Rather, do it so that notes become a diverse source. Students would have to figure out things like source quality for themselves.

All these technique together, we have a better technological environment to create our learning context. The task, I still believe strongly, is the create the motivation and "learning context" to help the learners learn.

Yahoo! Research Labs and O’Reilly Media Lauch Tech Buzz Game


Matt Pasiewicz pointed out two online trading games (both are free to play): Buzz Game and Blogshares.

He questions:

Will technologies inspired by the Buzz Game, Blogshares, and fantasy teams make their way into the classroom in a pervasive, systemic way? Will they actually support learning?

There are a number of reports and papers* on the use of games such as the Sims, SimCity etc. in learning. These games are mostly solo player game and the player is playing "god". The success of the game is determined by the built-in logics in the games and hence are not under the control of the teacher. I have always doubtful of the effectiveness of such games.

The two games "Buzz Game" and "Blogshares" are multi-user games. I don't know whether Blogshares is a zeo-sum game or not. Buzz Game, according to the website, is a zeo-sum game. In a way, these games model the real market closer compared to other solo player trading games. By themselves, they are NOT learning envirnoment. However, if a course is built around these games, pointing out and explaining theories for the players to trading, these game environments are wonderful spaces to try out strategies.

I agree with Matt that we should wait for empirical data before we jump to any conclusion.

*Examples are:
Games-based learning
Role Play Simulation for teaching and learning

Existing research on the use of "Pedagogical Agent"


Prompted by the current discussion of IFETS-DISCUSSION, I use "pedagogical agent" in Google and find a large number of research results on the use of the Microsoft Agents.

Now that I have introduced the world how to use these agents in PowerPoint for story telling, may be you can start incorporating them in your other projects as well. Please leave a comment here if you find a good project which makes good (pedagogically speaking) use of these agent. Let collectively create a repository of useful resources for this topic. First, I will need to find a free wiki site to host the repository ....

Getting MS agent to work in your PowerPoint


Some of you have communicated to me that they cannot get the Microsoft agent to work in order to create the animated PowerPoint. Here are the detailed steps to make sure that it will work - for Windows XP.Windows XP comes with the agent runtime installed - but only have one character file for you to use. Go to the windows directory and open the msAgent sub-directory. Inside there is a chars sub-directory. Inside you will see the characters that your system has. By default, it will only have one file: merlin.acs. So go to Microsoft Agent download page for end-users. At the top of the page, there is a content section. Get the following via links in the content section.Microsoft Agent character files. Get all of them, except Merlin which you already have. Save them somewhere. After downloading, double click to install. You can check your installation by looking at the chars directory as above. Here is another website which has more characters for you to download.text-to-speech engine. I downloaded British version. The American version sounds better in fact.SAPI 4.0 runtime support. This is the required speech support file. Download and save to somewhere. Double click to install. For some reason, the license of the file is invalid, so you CANNOT install directly from the link on the web page!To get the sample, go to Microsoft Agent 2.0 Sample: PowerPoint 97 Presentation Narrator and download the sample. [You may like to get the 2000 version] Save it somewhere. Double click to open. It will ask you if you want to allow the script to run. Choose "yes". By default, it will open the PowerPoint in the notes view. Run it to see the demonstration. You need to "wiggle" your mouse over the word "Merlin" in the front page to get the agent to come out. Please watch through a few slides before you stop it. Make sure you can see the bird (Peedy) come out too.If you can get to this stage, you have all tools you need to meet my challenge in the last post. So don't stop here. Read on. You are just one step from liberating your creativity.Stop your PowerPoint presentation (press ESC). Go back to the first slide. In the notes view, you will see the instruction. Here are a few key points.For each slide, any wordings before the funny ^*#{}#*^ is your notes. Any thing after that line is commands to the agent.If you already have an agent on screen, you don't need to show the agent. As in the first slide, you cannot assume there is any agent on screen. So you can use the command SHOW to show the agent. (All commands are in CAPITALS) This SHOW command takes the name of the agent, the agent file name and position on screen. Please experiment.The command SAY is the activation of the text-to-speech engine to say the words by the agent. If the pronunciation of the word is different from the rule, you can put the correct pronunciation in a bracket.For example, in slide 3 we have the commandSAY This is where I come {inn=in}.It will display "in" in the balloon, but sound like "inn". MOVE command allows you to move the agent to anywhere on the screen.PLAY command is the most interesting - and you and your students may spend most of your time playing with. PLAY will play an animation loop available with the agent. Different agent supports different animation loops and they may be all different. Check the documentation of which animations are supported by your agent.These are[...]