Comprehensive Reflection

Introduction

Completion of the Master of Arts in Educational Technology (EDTEC) degree program at SDSU was the culmination of a personal quest to learn how to use my game artist skills for education. During my journey through the degree program I discovered that these skills were best used to enhance the learner experience. I realized that digital media can be used to foster learner motivation and deliver engaging and interactive instruction. I have now been transformed from game artist to educational technologist. As an educational technologist, I have mastered the art of bridging the use of digital media with instructional design principles, models and processes to create memorable and meaningful experiences for learners.

 

While going through the program, three ideas were pivotal to my transformation from game artist to educational technologist.

  • Using technology as a tool for engaging learners
  • Building educational games
  • Michael Allen’s learner-centric successive approximation model

Ideas Shine Through

Using technology as a tool for engaging learners

This entire degree program has been one big “aha” for me about how and when to properly use digital media to create memorable and meaningful experiences. The “aha” is that it is indeed an effective tool for engaging and motivating learners, but that it must be soundly grounded in and warranted by the instructional design process. When I came into the degree program, I had my own preconceptions about how I wanted to use digital technology in education. Because I had never had an opportunity to use my computer animation skills professionally after graduating in 2001 from the Art Institute of Phoenix with a BA in Media, Art, and Animation, I was determined to prove 3D animation had a place in educational technology. As I progressed through the degree program, I quickly realized that creating 3D animation usually requires too much time; time that most instructional projects do not have available. I did find an opportunity to showcase my 3D animation skills in the educational video project in EDTEC 561, Advanced Multimedia (e.g. Technical artifact), but decided against using my 3D animation skills for most of my other projects simply to save time. That said, my educational video demonstrated how powerfully engaging and effective 3D animation can be when used properly for instruction. It not only enhanced the learning experience by entertaining the audience and appealing to them aesthetically, but it also enabled me to conveniently simulate reality for the learner.

Building educational games

One of my main motivations for enrolling in SDSU’s Educational Technology degree program was the fact that the EDTEC 670, Exploratory Learning through Simulation and Games course was listed as part of its curriculum. From the beginning of the degree program, I had looked forward to the semester when I would be able to take this course. When that day finally arrived, the course certainly lived up to my expectations. My main “aha” as a result of the course was how to properly design games to be dynamic instructional systems that would make the learning process fun and meaningful.


I was particularly intrigued by the content analysis framework for converting content types into game elements. This framework clearly connected content types to game elements. For example, it highlighted that content involving concepts could be converted into question categories on cards, regions on a game board, or critical attributes that must all be acquired (e.g. trivial pursuit wedges). I took advantage of the opportunity to convert a dull control & compliance topic I taught often at my company into a board game (e.g. Systems artifact).

 

So far I have successfully used the board game twice as part of class room instruction. Both times the learners expressed that they loved learning the content through the board game the most as it gave the content more meaning. Later in the EDTEC 670 course, I realized that use of the content analysis framework was not limited to building educational board games. It could be applied to the design and development of any educational game including e-Games.

Michael Allen’s learner-centric successive approximation model

I experienced a complete paradigm shift while reading a book called Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning for the EDTEC 650, Distance Education and e-Learning class. In this book, Michael Allen promoted a new learner-centric approach called successive approximation as a viable alternative to ADDIE. He asserted that ADDIE was a fatally flawed process for e-Learning because its emphasis on completeness and accuracy tended to result in content-centric, boring courses (Allen, 2003). After reading Allen's book, I was given an opportunity to apply the approach as part of a class project. Using the successive approximation approach, I built and usability tested a prototype of a course focused on the topic of Identifying Fallacies in Arguments (e.g. Principles, Theories & Models artifact). Through this project, I discovered that this rapid prototyping approach provides a faster means for building an e-Learning course than any other approach I have implemented.

This idea captivated my attention because I not only had just gone through years of ADDIE being emphasized as the basic model of choice in the EDTEC program and at work, but had recently completed development of an e-Learning course for my company using the company’s ADDIE method. I suddenly realized that I had just done exactly what his book had described. I had spent a great deal of time making sure the course content precisely met the expectations and specifications of the stakeholder and his subject matter experts without giving enough emphasis to the learner experience. Although development of the course for my company was praised as a success by my coworkers, the end result was still essentially a content-centric, boring course.


My Loves

Love for using technology

The great thing about the EDTEC degree program is that it gave me plenty of opportunities to demonstrate my passion for using digital media. From building websites with Dreamweaver to using Adobe Master Suite and 3D Studio Max to develop my educational video, I discovered that this career field gave me plenty of opportunities to do what I like best - use digital media and 3D animation.

 

One project that let me tap into my love for 3D animation was the informal learning exhibit project in EDTEC 671, Learning Environments (e.g. Communication artifact). For this class, I needed to learn more about the 3D virtual world of Second Life, so I could learn how to design an informal learning exhibit that made effective use of the interpretative technologies it offered to users.

 

In addition, the EDTEC degree program gave me an opportunity to expand my technical skill set into new digital media tools specifically meant for e-Learning and distance education. I learned how to:

  • Build a distance course in Moodle and Blackboard.
  • Use Adobe Connect, Wimba, and Dim Dim to deliver synchronous online instruction.
  • Build e-Learning modules in Udutu and Adobe Captivate.

 

Lastly, as part of a website evaluation project in EDTEC 590, Evaluation Techniques for the Performance Technologist (e.g. Data-based Decision Making artifact), I developed a strong appreciation for the web design principles of proximity, contrast, repetition, and alignment described in The Non-Designer's Web Book (Williams & Tollett, 2005). Since that course, I have made it a priority to ensure my websites, presentations and e-Learning courses reflect good web design principles.

Love for using games in instruction, particularly e-games

I already had developed a passion for the whole idea of creating digital games when I graduated from the Art Institute of Phoenix back in 2001. Back then, the appeal was mainly artistic. I had wanted to become a game artist, but my life path went another direction and I just never had another opportunity to pursue that dream. Because of this, one of the most thrilling projects in the EDTEC degree program was the opportunity to design an e-Game in the EDTEC 670, Exploratory Learning through Simulation and Games course (e.g. Interpersonal artifact). Building educational e-Games is something I would love to explore doing as part of my EDTEC career if such an opportunity arises.

Through the EDTEC degree program, I have discovered a new appeal for building games, one focused on using them to energize and motivate learners. In EDTEC 670, I quickly realized the success of game design stemmed primarily from my ability to properly apply motivational theories to enhance learner motivation. I used Keller's ARCS model of motivation described by Keller and Suzuki (1988) and the intrinsic motivation theory described by Malone and Leeper (1987) to determine if any game elements needed to be added or modified to improve the engagement of the learner when playing the game.

Love for making e-Learning experiences meaningful, memorable, and learner-centric

What I loved the most about Michael Allen’s successive approximation method was his e-Learning equation and his seven Magic Keys for making e-Learning experiences meaningful and memorable. Allen came up with a simple conceptual model to illustrate the relationship of motivation, content, and interactivity to achieving effective e-Learning outcomes:

e = m2ci

where:
e = e-Learning outcomes
m2 = motivation (squared)
c = content presentation
i = interactivity

The equation illustrates that if motivation is high, learning will occur even if content is presented poorly or there is little to no interactivity. Furthermore, if any of the three elements are missing, then achievement of the e-Learning objectives is usually doomed to failure.

 

I also loved all of the ideas for enhancing learner motivation that he presented in his seven Magic Keys. I particularly liked the point he made as part of his first Magic Key (build on anticipated outcomes) – that creating a game quiz in place of objectives or a pre-test is a non-threatening, effective means to increase learner motivation. This is because it immediately helps them actively see what content they need to learn right away and creates an environment where it is acceptable to not know the answer, and instead learn from one’s mistakes. Magic Keys #2 (put the learner at risk) and #4 (use an appealing context) were also meaningful to me as they related directly to my passion for using games, fascinating graphics and animation to enhance learner motivation (Allen, 2003).

Changes

Change in e-Learning approaches from ADDIE to successive approximation

After falling in love with Michael Allen’s successive approximation method and his seven Magic Keys, I am determined to try to convince training groups within my company to adopt this approach over the current ADDIE-based approach. Through its focus on rapid prototyping, the successive approximation method can potentially reduce training-related costs by reducing the hours we currently spend building and reviewing storyboards. Furthermore, its emphasis on building meaningful and memorable experiences to achieve a learner-centric focus will likely foster increased knowledge/skills development in employees. Moving to this approach will require a culture change that won’t happen overnight. Most training staff will be reluctant (some defiantly resistant) to abandon the comfort of ADDIE’s familiar model in favor of an alternative one. Furthermore, I will need to do what Michael Allen didn’t do in his book: outline specific steps for applying it. By establishing some form of structure around its application, I will be in a better position to evolve and perfect the approach.

 

I will always look for ways to incorporate Allen's seven Magic Keys into my courses going forward. I have already discovered that the keys are not limited to e-Learning. I recently applied magic key #1 (build on anticipated outcomes) to a classroom course. Instead of starting the class session with a list of instructional objectives, I started with a collaborative question and answer activity. Through this activity, everyone in the class immediately became aware of the misconceptions they held about the course topic and this motivated them to learn.

Changes in educational technology with respect to 3D animation and games

With the amazing success of 3D animation in the box office over the past few years in films such as Avatar, the question for the future is: will we ever see a similar explosion of this medium in the educational arena? As 3D technology continues to advance, it could open doors to new ways of creating memorable and meaningful learning experiences. In education today, 3D animation already offers us an appealing means to simulate hazardous scenarios, to immerse learners into the learning environment, and to simulate microscopic and enormous things on a screen. My informal learning exhibit project for EDTEC 670 demonstrated that Second Life already provides a virtual world for these kinds of learning experiences.

 

Educational e-Games are one area where the use of 3D animation for education has already begun to explode. Educational e-Games have already started to appear for use with the major game consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and the Sony Playstation 2. Although many video games are not intended to be educational, some do provide informal learning. My daughter (age 9) has learned the rules of various sports such as tennis, basketball, and bowling through playing these games in Wii and has transferred this knowledge to the real world. As the technology gets more immersive like the Wii, we can certainly expect the appeal of using 3D animation in educational e-Games to grow. Furthermore, Ruth Clark and Richard Mayer (2008) argue that the increased availability and quality of digital games is fostering a new gamer generation of learners whose brains have become hard-wired to the media-intensive and interactive aspects of this technology. In the future, the ability to build educational e-Games may eventually become a required skill for all instructional designers because most learners simply will prefer to learn through this medium.

 

The real challenge for us as educational technologists will be to find a tool that enables us to quickly produce high quality, photo realistic 3D animations. In today’s fast-paced world, the time needed to use programs such as 3D Studio Max or Maya to create photo realistic 3D animation often exceeds the amount of time available to create the course itself. Fortunately, new applications such as Google SketchUp, Daz3D, and Reallusion iClone are making it so anybody can create 3D animation. That said, to really create quality work you still need to become an expert with these applications, or in the case of Daz3D and Reallusion, have the financial resources to be able to buy the 3D assets from their community of freelance 3D artists.

 

I recently discovered a website called Xtranormal that allows visitors to use a text-to-movie tool to make 3D animated movies for free. The Xtranormal characters and scenes remind me of something you would see on Nickelodeon or the Cartoon Network (sorry, not Avatar quality!), but it was nice to be able use their website to quickly create a couple of videos for use in my EDTEC 650 e-Learning prototype. As more and more websites like Xtranormal make 3D animation more readily available to anyone, we may see 3D animation used more often in the near future to enhance the e-Learning experience. Perhaps as the demand for incorporating 3D animation into educational products grows, a course authoring tool will be developed that combines the quality of Reallusion, the simple toolset of Xtranormal, and the course development features of Captivate in one easy-to-use application.

References

Allen, M.W. (2003). Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning (1st ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Keller, J. M. and Suzuki, K. (1988). Use of the ARCS Motivation Model in Courseware Design. In D. H. Jonasse (Ed.), Instructional Designs for Microcomputer Courseware (pp. 401–434). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Malone, T. W. and Lepper, M. R. (1987). Making learning fun: A taxonomy of intrinsic motivations for learning. In M. J. Farr and R. E. Snow, (Eds.), Aptitude, Learning and Instruction: Cognitive and Affective Process Analyses, Vol. 3, (pp. 223-253). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Mayer, R. E. and Clark, R.C. (2008). e-Learning and the science of instruction: Proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). Hoboken, San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Williams, R. and Tollett, J. (2006). The non-designer’s web book (3rd ed.). Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press.