Tag: games

Would you like an education with that?

Burger

Last night I attended the official launch of the Tiny Shops Burgers app by Sydney-based startup, hawt.

The app is an educational game in which you are the manager of a busy little burger shop. The customers line up and place their orders – say, a burger, small fries and a drink – while you ring up their bill on the cash register, accept their payment and return their change.

If you keep the customers waiting too long, over-charge them or short-change them, they’ll become unhappy and you’ll lose them.

Screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

The time sensitivity of the game reminds me of Diner Dash in that it demands increasingly proficient priority management and faster performance as you work your way up the levels.

Beyond pure speed however, Tiny Shops Burgers also demands accuracy. Your success in the game is dependent on your getting the mathematics right, which must be done mentally (Heaven forbid!) while under pressure.

More screenshots from Tiny Shops Burgers

I recommend Tiny Shops Burgers because it gamifies a subject that plenty of school children dread. Not only can it develop their arithmetic skills, but also their financial literacy, awareness of foreign currencies, and (arguably) an appreciation of customer service.

But does it work?

I’ll answer that with a quote from a Year 5 student from Hurstville South Public School:

“I don’t like maths but I love this game!”

Eye of the tiger

In my previous post, Learning vs Development, I connected Cook-Greuter’s bidirectional view of development to the two sides of the L&D equation: horizontal growth representing the “L” and vertical transformation representing the “D”.

While the former refers to the traditional notion of learning as the acquisition of knowledge and skills, the latter is a more powerful concept. According to Cook-Greuter, “it refers to how we see the world through new eyes, how we change our interpretations of experience and how we transform our views of reality. It describes increases in what we are aware of, or what we can pay attention to, and therefore what we can influence and integrate.”

This reminds me of ecological psychology. When I was studying this subject at university, I found its core concepts such as umwelt abstract and vague. Although I eventually got my head around it well enough to get through, I was never fully satisfied with my depth of understanding.

Then I read The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival by John Vaillant.

Now, this book isn’t a high-brow treatise of epistemology, but rather a fascinating story of tiger poaching in the wilds of far-eastern Russia. From this unlikely source I obtained a wonderfully simple explanation of umwelt…

Siberian Tiger

In 1909, an Estonian-born baron-turned-psychologist named Jakob von Uexkull introduced the concept of Umwelt to the world. Uexkull is considered one of the fathers of ethology, which is also known as behavioural ecology. It is a young discipline whose goal is to study behaviour and social organization through a biological lens. “To do so,” wrote Uexkull in “A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men,” “we must first blow, in a fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of those bubbles, the familiar is transformed.” Uexkull called this bubble the umwelt, a German word that he applied to a given animal’s subjective or “self-centered” world.

An individual’s umwelt exists side by side with the Umgebung – the term Uexkull used to describe the objective environment, a place that exists in theory but that none of us can truly know given the inherent limitations of our respective umwelten. In addition to being delightful words to say, umwelt and umgebung offer a framework for exploring and describing the experience of other creatures.

In the umgebung of a city sidewalk, for example, a dog owner’s umwelt would differ greatly from her dog’s in that, while she might be keenly aware of a SALE sign in a window, a policeman coming toward her, or a broken bottle in her path, the dog would focus on the gust of cooked meat emanating from a restaurant’s exhaust fan, the urine on a fire hydrant, and the doughnut crumbs next to the broken bottle.

Objectively, these two creatures inhabit the same umgebung, but their individual umwelten give them radically different experiences of it. And yet these parallel universes have many features in common: both dog and mistress must be careful crossing the street, and both will pay close attention to other dogs, if not for the same reasons.

Vaillant then goes on to explain how the success of hunting depends on how well the hunter can step inside the umwelt of his prey and see the world through its eyes.

What’s this got to do with e-learning?

Of course, ecological psychology isn’t new to edtech. Its principles have been applied tovideo games, online forums and the semantic web, for instance.

However while the screen-based umwelt is obviously important in the modern workplace, I’m also interested in the world around us. And this is where I think technology-assisted games have much to offer.

While the pedagogical benefits of games are well documented in terms of motivation and engagement, their potential to complement authentic umwelts is probably under appreciated.

Take airport security for example: consider an augmented reality app designed to train a customs officer to recognise the tell-tale signs of a passenger who is concealing drugs. The officer holds up her device (such as an iPad) to a real checkpoint, over which virtual passengers stream through.

The objective of the officer is to select the passengers whom she suspects of carrying drugs. Each selection prompts an explanation of whether she is right or wrong, and reinforces the reasons why. Combine this with a points system and competition among her colleagues, and she’ll become a mule-busting expert in no time!

Another example context is environmental science: consider a treasure hunt designed to train a biologist to identify the major vegetation types in a forest.

QR codes are placed on indicator species (such as trees and ferns) along a trail, but out of plain sight.

An initial clue is provided – perhaps descriptions and photos of several plants typically found in a rainforest.

The objective of the biologist is to walk along the trail until he reaches the rainforest gully, find the QR code in the vicinity, scan it with his iPhone, and study the new clue which points him to the next vegetation type. The game is not complete until he finds all the codes and hence familiarises himself with all the vegetation.

In neither of the cases above was the learner’s workplace simulated on screen. The setting was real.

The corollary, then, is that when a person’s performance on the job is highly dependent on their umwelt, a technology-assisted game can help them acquire the “eye of the tiger” in that context.

Why Gowalla should merge with Foursquare

Man… I was percolating a blog post that predicted Gowalla would merge with Foursquare, when Ben Parr chimes in with this:

Gowalla Turns the Tables, Integrates With Foursquare

It’s the quick and the dead on the interwebs!

Why would I suggest Gowalla merge with Foursquare?

Facebook Places.

I don’t have an MBA, nor do I pretend to have expertise or inside knowledge on geolocation business models, but consider it on a mathematical level:

As of 7 July 10, Foursquare has just over 1.9 Million users, while Gowalla has around 340,000.

Compare that to Facebook which has over 500 million users.

Gowalla, Foursquare and Facebook icons

The minnows have to do something drastic to survive.

Why bother trying?

Well, 2 million users is a lot of customers in anyone’s language. And it’s growing by the tens of thousands daily.

A part of me also respects brands that are clever or brave enough to be first to market, not to mention my disdain for those who profit by ripping off other people’s ideas. I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

But more importantly, I think Gowalla and Foursquare trump Facebook in one key area: they are specialist geolocation platforms.

Yes, millions of Facebook users will happily use Facebook Places while they list their favourite movies and play Farmville. However, some people aren’t on Facebook and don’t care for its broader social networking offering. Then there are others, like me, who remain on Facebook under sufferance and much rather use Foursquare for checking in to places and keeping track of my mates.

Opportunity knocks

Gowalla and Foursquare’s competitive edge could have a bearing on
e-learning, particularly in the workplace.

I can’t see employers forcing their people to create Facebook accounts, even if it is for lofty learning and development purposes. If anything, the opposite is true.

Rightly or wrongly, something philosophically simpler like Foursquare might be an easier sell.

My point is: corporate geolocation training games ain’t gonna be played on Facebook Places. Gowalla and Foursquare have an opportunity to fill the void.

Corporate accounts, anyone?


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