Monday, February 15, 2010

Virtual simulated real-world situated participatory learning...with computers

Ok, I'd like to address a couple of things before I get started. First, I hope that you got a little chuckle from the title--that was my intention. Second, my model incorporates references from the TV shows Coach (because it's an old favorite) and The Simpsons (because it was on while I was reading the articles for this week). That being said, let's get into this week's model on participatory simulations (PS) and augmented reality (AR). At first thought, this unit sounded like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (AD&D). Interestingly enough I wasn't too far off in that assumption.

The idea behind PS and AR is the idea that learning is situated and takes place within the real world yet involves a type of role playing with data or other malleable factors to create a simulated experience allowing students to experience real world situations that would be unrealistic for them to participate in in reality and lack any negative consequences that would otherwise be a concern in such an actual situation. Now, rather than just pretend that students are modeling let say, virus infection patterns, they are able to use hand held technology like a Palm, netbook, or even an iPod Touch to realistically emulate such an experiment. In my humble opinion (and somewhat mirroring what Klopfer et al. concluded) students are more willing to interact with and enjoy technology that is more interactive and visual rather than technology like "analog" digital nametags. When playing a game (or participating in a simulation) the more feedback that can be offered to the user the more ensconced and immersed the user becomes in the experience (again loosely illustrated from Klopfer et al.). I believe that this also ties into the situated nature of the activity. The more immersed the player is in the experience the greater the buyin to the experience as situated learning rather than an activity to illustrate a real life situation.

So let's break down my model. The picture shows 2 worlds, one on the left and one on the right. The left illustrates the real world where students reside while the one on the right illustrates a parallel universe where data or other hypothetical factors can be drawn from. Connecting the 2 planes of existence is a wormhole based on technology used in the PS or AR. Through the use of this technology (and dependent on the quality of the technology) the 2 planes of existence are bridged into a single experience through which students are situated into a merged plane of existence where learning can be done that would otherwise be unrealistic for them to practice in the real world alone in a classroom or lab. The alien in the spaceship above (a likeness of Kodos or Kang) is disseminating a beam of students' prior experience and use of technology that augments the technology wormhole making it more or less effective dependent on several factors. These factors include but are not limited to students' lack of technology use, students' love of technology, students' own agenda of technology.

In a best case scenario, students are able to take a wide variety of technologies and utilize computer fluency/flexibility to achieve an optimal AR/PS environment bridging the real and parallel universes and yielding a strong situated learning environment. While the worst case scenario involves students either rejecting or becoming frustrated with the technology or using it subversively due to their personal agenda of how they want to use the technology, both resulting in a struggling learning environment.

As a side note and a shout out, a lot of what was in the articles and my personal feelings on the ideas leads me back to Jeff's Tweeting Characters work as a PS/AR. So ask him about it if you're interested.


  1. It's interesting to think of how blurry the line might be between the "real" world and microworlds. For instance, can we design a twitter experience that embodies the notion of a microworld? If so, then to what extent might other experiences with twitter be considered immersion in a microworld? what if I tweet as, for example, "fake Herald-Times"? Is that the beginning of an augmented-reality experience? Then what if I switch over to my "real" twitter identity--to what extent might THAT also be a type of augmented-reality experience?

    It seems like there's something to say here about the teacher's role in designing and supporting the microworld experience. What do you think?

  2. Your best-case scenario - "students are able to take a wide variety of technologies and utilize computer fluency/flexibility to achieve an optimal AR/PS environment bridging the real and parallel universes and yielding a strong situated learning environment" - borders on an ARG where everyone can use whatever they want to attack the problem. An ARG would be pretty ambitious for a classroom, but it's always possible.

    What I saw from the readings was the importance of scaffolding in the studies. The Squire and Klopfer paper on Environmental Detectives didn't do enough to scaffold the learners. If you want to turn students loose to use technology in inquiry, you have to give them the structure they need to succeed.