Sunday, March 12, 2017

Affinity Space Update: Life in Terraria

As a complete newcomer to Terraria, and to video-gaming in general, I give you some of my initial observations both playing the game and perusing the forums:

Playing the game

Watch out for the green blobs! I think they call it slime but they move like blobs. Unassuming on the outside but harmful to the touch...

I downloaded both the app and the PC version of Terraria to try both. I find the app much easier to maneuver with the touch screen options. The PC uses keyboard keys to perform functions which is a little difficult to get used.

I selected this game for two reasons: 1) because it's 2D (going back to my roots!) and 2) it's a sandboxing game where one can just go and explore. Right now exploring is all I do. I'm not really sure how I can progress so I'm relying on any type of insights or instruction I can glean from the forums.


Wow, this is quite the place! I can't believe how many members there are for this game. My first thought is - how old are these forum members? The game appears to be something more designed for kids, similar to Minecraft.

The forums are structured like a traditional message board but within the space are a number of social groups, each with their own rules, moderators, and resources.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Scholarly Critique: "Learningful work: Learning to work and learning to learn"

After reading Bavelier’s article, “Brain Plasticity Through the Life Span: Learning to Learn and Action Video Games,” in this past cycle’s reading lineup, I became intrigued on the concept of learning to learn. Bavelier sums up the main issue surrounding learning in his own words:

“The ability of the human brain to learn is exceptional. Yet, learning is typically quite specific to the exact task used during training, a limiting factor for practical applications such as rehabilitation, workforce training, or education.”

His words immediately caught my attention as someone who highly involved in workforce training in my profession. I see this all the time. I try to teach an employee a simple task to perform in the software yet whenever some unforeseen variable comes along they are immediately thrown off track – because that variable wasn’t in the original training. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit, I often tease that such employees have maxed out their intellectual hard drives and are unable to learn anything new. Thanks to Bavelier, my narrow-minded thinking has been put right in front of me. For this reason, I wanted to drill down on the concept of learning to learn and found, among many articles, a piece by Rob McCormack, Geri Pancini, and Dan Tout of Victoria University in Australia titled, “Learningful work: Learning to work and learning to learn”.   
In this article, the authors posit that the meaning of the term “learning” must undergo some fundamental transformations due emerging technologies, organizational structures, and new demands on skills and knowledge. They call this becoming liquid or adaptable. The study focuses on learning in the workplace. However, instead of education preparing one for work, they focus on how the work-place becomes a place for education or learning to learn.

Although these authors examine the workplace, I believe this study mirrors the world of games and learning. I personally believe that games and play are a simulation of real life. We, as students, can study theoretical knowledge on a given topic but there is nothing experiencing the real thing. Learning on the job can be very similar to jumping into a game. In fact, the game I wrote about for my play journal this week did exactly that – I was plunged into action with little to know explanation or orientation.

It is true, in the workplace, we often train people to perform specific tasks. This could be similar to teaching someone a specific position on a football team. If something occurs outside of that position or outside of that job position, we often hear the phrase “that’s not my job”. Learning to learn or, as the article states, doing learningful work can help a person to expand their role, strategize, or master new concepts.

Social dimensions can also impact learning. In the study done by Victoria University, students were placed as rovers in campus libraries to assist students. The idea was that people would feel more comfortable reaching out to a peer rather than to staff. Within gaming, there also appears to be a horizontal social component where people are aided by those closely associated. I see this at work as well. New employees often feel more comfortable asking peers for help rather than authorities for fear of asking a “stupid” question.

Play Journal: Family Farm Seaside

I just got back yesterday from a two-week business trip so I apologize for posting this journal entry so late in the cycle. I anticipated having some down time at the hotel in the evenings but that quickly evaporated into late dinners and meetings…bleh! All this was due to a fairly recent company merger. Anyway, although play is usually the desire of my heart, it hasn’t been on my mind much. So as I was sitting in the San Jose airport this afternoon with a couple hours to kill, I decided to scroll through the ol’ Google Play Store and see what app I could jump into. And wouldn’t you know, right there advertised on the main page is Family Farm Seaside.

This game caught my attention not because I’m interested in it but rather the opposite – I’m not interested in it. Yet I see this game advertised ALL THE TIME. And every time I do see an ad for it I ask myself, “Why?......Is this supposed to be fun?” So, this time around I decided to turn my disdain into curiosity and decided to download the app.
Family Farm Seaside is exactly that – a family farm…by the seaside. The player has a landscape view of a farm with various activities: grow flowers, harvest fruit trees, milk the cow, make cheese, collect honey, make jam – all within a specified area which area looks to have the potential to grow. There are also some unfinished tasks (such as building a dock or opening a fruit stand) that are available after unlocking later levels. Completing tasks accrues coins or other rewards which are then used to acquire more land or farm resources.

I naturally wanted to approach this game from a learning perspective and pay particular attention 1) how did the app teach me, a first-timer, how to play and 2) How can this game be used as a learning tool?

Once the game loaded, I was immediately plunged into a pre-set farm with tasks already laid out for me. An instructional finger appears to orient me on how to complete tasks – which I do to move on to the next thing. I became immediately frustrated because that is not how I want to learn a game. I want an overview and an objective BEFORE I dive into specific actions. So far, I cannot seem to find a goal or objective at all. There is a path for progress but to what end? Is the point to just build a farm, make money, and keep growing the farm? The only thing I know is the process for growing the farm.
The main thing that has been on mind going into this game is the recent reading by Bavelier and the focus on “learning to learn”. Many times, in my career, I have seen employees learn a task only to be thrown off completely by a new variable. Without a clear objective to Family Farm, I fail to see how intuitive learning can take place.

Then…I handed my phone to my five-year-old. He immediately took over and didn’t ask a single question. He simply started pushing buttons and figuring things out on his level. He wasn’t worried about an objective, he simply played. Perhaps there needs to be less focus on crossing the finish line and more emphasis on the race.