Badgification of learning

A response to http://lg.dlivingstone.com/2013/04/21/badges-badges-badges/

I remember at school we had a credit system, earn a credit for your house. It was a way to exert some extrinsic pressure on us to perform, but I was enough of a nerd to want to learn the stuff anyway. I remember once a maths teacher congratulating me on solving some problem and asking if I wanted a credit. I answered that if she wanted to give me one then fine, but I wasn’t really interested. I think she was quite non-plussed. I think it unsettled her whole notion of how to motivate students.

Today though, although I won’t go much out of my way to unlock an achievement when playing on the Xbox, I will occasionally. I play the games just for fun, to get to the end, but if I see there’s an achievement for, for example, stabbing people with an arrow rather than shooting them with one, I’ll hit the B button occasionally rather than the Y one. That’s pretty much as far as I’ll go to get a badge.

It surprises me therefore the degree to which badgification of courses is taken seriously as a concept. Qualifications are weak enough as an indication of learning. I got through all of my A levels by simply rote learning, and actually only really understood the material when I had to teach it 10 years later. The whole attributing a badge automatically, which is really the only attribution a system can make without the intervention of an actual human to assess the learner, seems to be particularly pointless, on the level of an attendance certificate. The only time I ever really felt my learning was properly being assessed was during my viva. A nerve-wracking experience, and I felt I’d been put through the wringer, but I knew at the end that I’d proven I knew what I knew, and knew my externals knew I knew. But to hand out something just because something is completed, rather than understood, is the other end of the spectrum. We might as well put a badge in the back of a book for someone to peel off and stick to their shirt when they’ve got to the end of it to prove they know what it’s about.

To me, the idea of badges is another example of the sleight of hand involved in MOOCs which replaces education with content, and yet still calls it education. I think they’re useful, they make materials accessible to far more people, but materials are only one aspect, and to complete one really proves nothing.

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Tips for travelling in Brazil

Well I don’t have many, I’ve only really spent a few days looking round so far but here are some you probably won’t have thought of.

Remember those days (not so long ago, really, but they seem way off) where you had to struggle to get by because people didn’t speak English. I actually miss them when I’m travelling. I loved having to get a phrase book out and trying the language, or getting through with gesticulating and mime. I think it must be about 10 years since I had to do that while travelling round Europe. Well in Brazil they don’t speak English on the whole, so dust off your Portuguese phrase book and pop it in your luggage.

Bring your staff card with you. Professors (by which they mean anyone who teaches, not just the title) get in musea and galleries half price. I didn’t bring mine, but they believe me because I’m travelling with academics and my bank card has Dr on it. This is possibly the first time having a PhD has paid off.

Try the Brazilian tea. Everyone goes on about the coffee, so you expect that (and so far the ratio of bad to good coffee in cafes I’ve tried is about 2:1, better than the UK but not brilliant). The tea gets overlooked. It’s very good.

PS: Firefox – yes musea is a word, so is travelling. Stop redlining proper words or I’m going to turn off the spellcheck.

On the importance of practise

I had dinner last night with Shekar Viswanathan, who was recounting some of the stories of his friend Ravi Shankar. Pandit Shankar was 92 when he died, and not long before that, Shekar went round to his house to find him practising and when he finished asked him why he still practised every day, since he’d been playing the sitar for well over 70 years. I liked the response so much I thought I’d post it here. “If I didn’t play every day, my wife would know. If I didn’t practise for 2 or 3 days, I’d know. If I didn’t practise for a week, everyone would know.” I think I got that right. Just goes to show the relative importance for everyone, no matter how talented 1) of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and  2) keeping your hand in, no matter what you do, or how good you are. Which is why I spent a couple of hours today writing 🙂

Augmented Reality and history

Just a brief post this time, since I’m still trying to write the conclusion to the book and don’t want to be too distracted, but here’s a thought: …

virtual worlds help to redefine what our notion of history actually is. Understanding what translates from the physical world to the virtual world when buildings with which we have an historical relationship are reproduced within a computer-generated environment leads to questions about our experiences and how these become associated with space. In part the new virtual builds may recall our own personal historical connection with the physical version of the building, but our emotional connection with that space is probably at one remove if we are just observing it within the virtual world. However, it is possible to imbue virtual spaces with their own history, through the design of activities, such as in Ian Upton’s Ritual Circles, to foster these experiences and through the actions of people exploring, using and attributing meaning to those spaces under their own auspices. The different nature of the various Globe Theatres within Second Life is testament to that, in that some, though less historically accurate, are located within community spaces and so have a historical significance to the community in which they are embedded, others which are historically accurate survive as showcases of the building skills and interests of its creators, and others are no longer in Second Life and now only exist as 3D models and photographs.

As we move more towards using virtual spaces, and in meaning being accrued to physical spaces via augmented realities, will history itself become a more fluid concept? As people modify the augmented aspect of buildings through their own adding of geotagged paradata, will this augmented aspect be considered part of the intrinsic historical meaning of a site, in the same way that a Banksy graffito is preserved and lauded in the physical world at present, or merely ephemeral or a nuisance? As different applications layer different paradata onto sites, will the history of spaces diverge, depending on whether you follow an Apple or an Android historical perspective?

And a final thought:

Through augmented reality, the mingling of avatars and physical bodies, as pioneered in the Extract Insert installation, will become more commonplace. The worlds through which we move will become tagged with paradata and the wider psychological immersion that comes with understanding a space will be greater. This will have its bigger impact, potentially, in those fourth places within the physical world. Places of ritual significance, performance spaces and game spaces are all those that possess greater semiotic significance and benefit from having that wealth of meaning made manifest.  As paradata are tagged to the artefacts and people around us, then boundary objects become more accessible and the other members in our communities become more known to us. If we can enter these spaces projecting our avatars to others, through mapping them onto our physical bodies, identity becomes more malleable and roleplay more attainable. Potentially new types of spaces will arise, with new conventions and new ways to communicate as the affordances of both worlds collide and create a new synthesis. Those of us who can will live constantly in a state of metaxis. Those who cannot adapt will become increasingly alienated and isolated.

Immersion, immediacy and augmented reality

I’ve been writing a bit more about the differences between immediacy and immersion and why they’re not the same, and thought that this applies to the idea of augmented reality as well as virtual reality. To recap: One of the definitions of presence I take issue with is that it can be described as “the perception of non-mediation”, a definition that is sometimes applied to the phrase immediacy as if these are the same things. They’re linked, but there are important differences. The idea of immediacy is that if we are completely unaware that there is a technology between us and the environment, then we will be completely immersed. Actually, though, if you reflect on your experiences of virtual environments it’s evident they are different things – there’s definitely no immediacy, but there is immersion – well one sort of immersion.

What I should have said last time I talked about this is that a helpful distinction is the one made by Lombard and Ditton in that paper I keep quoting, where they talk about psychological immersion, which is what I’ve been talking about as immersion up to now, and perceptual immersion, which is both immediacy (there is no interface) and the extent to which the technology dominates our senses (its immersiveness).

The stuff that gets between – the mediations we perceive – sometimes can detract from a feeling of psychological immersion, but sometimes can enhance it. I mentioned before that wayfinding via maps on the screen can enable the user to feel more part of the environment despite the fact that they are a visible layer between the viewer and the environment. Another example is when exploring the theatres in Theatron (a virtual worlds project I evaluated which recreated about 20 historical theatres in Second Life http://cms.cch.kcl.ac.uk/theatron/) the paradata available to students made sense of the space for them, and provided additional context. The ability of the user of technology to adapt to technology, to develop an unconscious competency at sense-making using these pop-up boxes and clickable menus means that, once accustomed to them, although perceived, the interface is not intrusive, it simply becomes another sense through which the virtual is perceived.

But now with the advent of augmented reality, then the affordances of the virtual world are being imported to the physical. Through the use of devices such as Google Glass, the physical world will no longer be interfaceless. Like the virtual worlds viewers, although intrusive at first, the heads up displays and available paradata will become second nature as we adapt to their use. The cultural context and additional information around us can be added to historical sites, and the added level of significance of artefacts in that form the signifying system in semiotic social spaces such as cathedrals (I always need someone who isn’t an atheist to explain what’s going on in them to me). [And if you don’t know what semiotic social spaces are, read Gee, or better yet, the book by Iryna and me when it comes out, I don’t mean our book is better, it’s just better for us since we probably need the royalties more than Gee does].

Rather than then being alienating spaces in which information is not communicated and lack of knowledge of boundary objects preclude full understanding of the space, the paradata added via augmented reality act as boundary spanners to full participation in the space. [OK and now I’m quoting Wenger – oh maybe our book is better because it mashes up two different theories]. Therefore, in the same way that accompanying interfaces can help make the virtual world more psychologically immersive, augmented reality has the potential to make the physical world more psychologically immersive. By providing us with paradata about our surroundings we can become more part of them, not less, psychological immersion is increased though immediacy is decreased.

That’s what i’m claiming anyway. Does that sound plausible though?

Defining space

I’m currently working on a book with Iryna Kuksa at NTU – it’s called Making Sense of Space and will be published by Chandos. We always collaborate well — she kind of organises me to go off and do something and I go off and do it. There’s usually a bit of to and fro, and when we collaborate directly on something by merging our stuff into a combined chapter (like the intro to this book) even we can’t really tell who wrote which bit.

Anyway, my instruction for the introduction was “define space”. Good point. My response was to find an excuse to defer the task … the rationale being that it would go better in the conclusion since we needed to explore the concepts underpinning it in the rest of the book first. Now I’m on the conclusion I couldn’t put it off any longer, so this is my go at it — by comparing the idea of virtual space with physical space, and when the digital feels like space and when it doesn’t.

Anyway this is my first attempt, it may go through editing and improvement before it makes it into the book, however.

Digital to virtual: is cyberspace a space?

Cyberspace is a common metaphor, and yet its usefulness has been challenged, for example by Katherine Olson, an expert in mass communication law at Lehigh University (2000). While acknowledging that employing metaphors in accommodating new technologies is natural, and noting that early ones drew on parallels to communications networks (2000, p 10) she argues that the tendency to employ the spatial metaphors that were noted in the introductory chapter to this book (websites, for example) has led the way to adopting the metaphor more widely and less usefully than is appropriate. On a legal level too, the idea of the Internet as a space has led to the concept of cybertrespass, that unwanted communication violates one’s space rather than one’s things (p 14). In addition it has led to the idea that the information that exists on one’s display is a separate place from the location in which that display sits, and so subject to different laws than those that apply to the actual physical location.

However, when we move from considering cyberspace to the three-dimensional worlds of virtual reality, then the idea that this is a purely metaphorical use of the word space is not so obvious. Unlike the separate webpages of a website, the space in a virtual world has three dimensions which can these be navigated and moved through with changing perspectives in a manner very similar to physical spaces. Not only is this done in a disembodied way, as in a three-dimensional model, but we have a reality in that space through the presence of our avatars. Interactions with objects and other people become available when our avatars move into spaces giving a strong sense of it us being in that location. In fact, it is that self-presence in a virtual world that can make a MUD (which is purely text-based) feel more like a space than a 3D model, which though more perceptually immersive, still does not bestow us a reality within it.

Olson calls virtual reality an oxymoron, (p 14) which it is, Michele Ryan, then a doctoral student at Lancaster University, explored the etymology of the phrase and concluded it is a fake reality, one which is not real, make believe (Ryan and Childs, 2011, p 256). An opposing viewpoint is that we can invest whatever importance we choose to alternative realities, that a space in which we move, interact, have friendships and communities may not be completely solid and independently real, but it is virtually reality (p 257). It is the significance we give to the objects, people and societies in our surroundings, and the very fact that these feel like surroundings because they are encountered serendipitously within their environment, that we have emotional agency within those spaces, and because they require our intention to engage belief in them to make them real to us, that makes virtual worlds space-like. Thus the space that we inhabit in a virtual world is not habitable because it is a space; it is a space because we inhabit it.

Olson, K.K. (2000) Cyberspace as Place and the Limits of Metaphor, Convergence, 11 (1), 10-18

Ryan, M. and Childs, M. (2011) Chapter 13: Synthetic Societies or Pseudo Realities? Debating the Ethical Dilemmas of Second Life in D. Weir and N. Sultan (eds) From Critique to Action: The practical ethics of the organizational world, UK: Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 254 – 272