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NASAGA '06 conference, day 3 of 4

Posted by wwake on October 14, 2006 at 7:15 AM PDT

I know I said "day 3 of 4", but I actually need to add a couple more things about day 2.

In addition to his keynote speech, Bernie DeKoven was recognized for his contributions with the Ifill-Reynolds Award, which NASAGA bestows on someone each year.

In the evening activity of day 2, I joined the group playing STARPOWER, a simulation by Garry Shirts. This game has you split into three groups and engage in a trading game. The rules are designed so that the system makes it hard to change groups (though we in the lower group did manage to get one person into the top group by pooling everything we had).

There's a rule-making round, where the top group gets to create rules. Our top group said, "You can talk before trading," "Players in the top group start with an extra chip," and "You must trade with a top if they ask you to," but also "Someone in the top group will try to accommodate any trade request made by the lower groups."

A couple things struck me: one is that the bottom group had the easiest time making decisions, the middle had the middle, and the top had the toughest. This was true for every decision and discussion. During the debrief, someone said that the lower two groups were discussing trade strategies, but the top group was about power.

We discussed how much the system enforced the lack of mobility. Someone in the top group said they did add a rule that would help the lower groups. That was true, but I think the rule came across as "charity" or a "tip of the hat" toward equality, without the real thing. (Note that two of the new rules further reinforced the position of the tops, even disregarding their other current and past advantages.)

It was an interesting simulation. The game's structure certainly enforced the system it wanted to. It effectively points out how a society, consciously or not, creates rules that reinforce the powerful.

Keynote: SAGE - Simulation And Gaming Environment for Learning, by David Kauffman.

SAGE is an academic initiative, supported by the Canadian government. It focuses on, "How do people learn through SAGEs?" They're using a multi-phase approach, to first review and translate existing literature, to do development research, and to do evaluative research in live settings.

They've focused on healthcare as their initial domain. One of their ideas is to use a patient-focused rather than a biomedical-focused approach. By generating emotion, they hope to generate memorability.

The group uses a couple other distinctions. One is the "foundation" - conceptual foundations, methods and tools, and technology. Another distinction is games vs. simulations vs. simulation games.

Some things they've developed: a repository of articles, prototypes, a generic game shell and a supporting site where people can share content, some multimediat simulations, and a Contagion simulation. They're also exploring ways to wrap a virtual usability lab around the games, to help with evaluation.

David pointed out that there's often a debate about games - are they something kids need to be weaned off of, or do they promote concentration and skills we can use? Their group believes games both have motivational power and the ability to be a powerful learning tool.

They've been using a framegame approach, where there's a structure with rules and challenges ready to go, and content (information and objectives) that you "pour in."

A simulation game is a simulation that has game-like elements such as goals and scoring. They introduced this distinction because they were seeing mixed results when people considered, "Do games work in education?" Their hypothesis is that simulation games are generally effective.

In the future, David sees them going forward with completing prototypes, doing controlled studies, and continuing knowledge dissemination. He invited others (large or small) to partner with them.

Two related web sites: and For further reading, he recommended Simulations and the Future of Learning by Clark Aldritch, and Digital Game-Based Learning by Marc Prensky.

Session: Implementing Games and Simlations in the Virtual Classroom, by Joey Monaco.

Joey demonstrated several games that she uses in virtual classrooms. One was a hidden word match, where you connect matching answers and find a secret word. (In their environment, people can used shared drawing tools to create the connecting lines.)

Another game was "Who wants to be a virtual contestant?" Someone is a contestant, and the audience helps. We did a "fill in the blanks".

To help get people to read material in advance, Joey uses pre-session brainteasers. People get to show off their knowledge a little.

Joey had developed a couple branching-based tools, similar to "Choose your own adventure." This seemed to require a lot of work (both in terms of working out the whole branch structure and applying it). A related technique was the use of multimedia simulations.

An issue in virtual classrooms is how people pay attention. Her group's goal is to make the content so compelling people won't multi-task around it. They use a variety of interactions and techniques to make that happen. For example, they shift modes at least a little every 7-8 minutes, they poll people several times per hour, and they limit sessions to 120 minutes (though they believe 90 minutes might be better).

In the future, Joey sees more sophistication (e.g., 3D), multi-player online capabilities, and the use of simulation for assessment.

For further research, Joey recommends Games magazine, The Imagineering Way, and

Activity: Treasure Hunt, by David Blum.

David Blum has one of the coolest jobs I know: he travels all over and creates team-building treasure hunts. He gave us a taste of his skill. He found 6 interesting landmarks within a several-block radius of the hotel. He gave us 6 clues (e.g., realizing something was morse code and translating it). The clues led us to the landmark, where we had to note a name or word. Our group was the only one to solve the bonus clue, so that made up for me messing up Friday's sudoku:) Vancouver has had such great weather this week; it was nice to get outside even just for a little bit.

Banquet, Talent Show, and Auction

After dinner, we had a brief talent show. It included an improv scene, a story, and a poem. But the highlight was hilarious: a cow in a dress, singing a sort of torch song and playing a musical saw. I'm done crying now. The auction was fun, and raised more than $3500 for scholarships.

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