Thursday, February 23, 2006

BBC Jam - a messy business

Now had time to go through the ‘Business studies’ stuff for 11-12 year olds – it gets weirder. Take one of its ‘star’ businesses, wait for it…. Eidos! Sorry about picking on Eidos. I’d love to tell you about the other businesses, but hardly anything loaded and worked.

What the BBC case study doesn’t tell you is that Eidos was days away from bankruptcy last year as their bank wanted to pull the plug after massive losses, missed deadlines and bug–ridden releases. In the end, after a collapse in the share price, it was picked up by SCi, a much smaller player. The company profile makes no mention of this. In fact Eidos, as a company, doesn’t really exist, it is really only a brand and consumer marketing vehicle. SCi is the listed company. Click on the TV in the BBC simulation and you’re taken to the SCi website – that should confuse the learners! As an assignment you are asked to do a SWOT analysis of Eidos – that WOULD be interesting, if you had the real and current data to view! The only interesting bit was the ability to explore the Eidos offices, but again, it was a lot of effort for very little reward. You wonder why all of the Eidos senior staff were posing about for BBC film and photo-shoots at the very time the company was sinking - they should have been trying to get their lamentably late games out.

In general, the whole thing is a scrapyard mess. The repeated animations are just annoying – the same images over and over again – it makes you scream with rage. E-learning is about the user being in control. This is what you get when TV people create interactive content – thinly disguised broadcast material. Interactivity is the name of the game. Here you spend more time hanging about waiting, often on just simple pieces of repeated animation, than learning. Most of the time it’s like an animated PowerPoint in extreme and painful slow-motion. Try the Library – you may lose the will to live waiting on results.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Bienvenue à Habbo Hotel!

Just back from Paris with my kids where they learnt more French in five days than they did in the first half of their year at school. Why do hundreds of thousands of children go through years of French at school yet can barely order a drink when they go to France? It's clear that the classroom is NOT the way to teach a language. Immersion is clearly the answer (with formal backup). That's why my home town Brighton is packed with foreign students year on year.

Online worlds now give us this immersion. Thousands of kids already hang out in this synthetic world. Go to Habbo Hotel (French version) and you can sign up and chat to real French users, party, meet people in cafes, go swimming, furnish your room, go shopping, get a pet....what better way to immerse yourself in the language than being forced to converse with others. It's a sort of messenger on steroids. This may be the educational answer we've been looking for - it's free and it's packed with real people speaking the real language. We're going to try it over the next few months.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Castronova's 'Synthetic Worlds' and informal learning

Loved Castronova's book 'Synthetic Worlds - The Business and Culture of Online Games'. It's a serious academic text (but readable) on parallel worlds online - what it's like to enter, inhabit and meet others, as well as a detailed examination of their economies. Online Synthetic worlds promise to be huge in the delivery of learning. As they parallel everything in the real world they will also provide undreamt of possibilities in learning. Lots of real examples already exist in medicine, public health, finance and the military. You enter the world (like Second Life), create an avatar and visit the learning location. Second Life now has a special 'Campus: Second Life' service.

As Castronova says, 'There are enough applications of this technology in the area of education and research to occupy several generations of teachers and researchers' - damn right. Millions play and hang out in these environments and it's one more Web 2.0 tool, such as open source, podcasts, videocasts, blogs, wikis, file sharing and others, that will play a role in informal learning. Being in these worlds may turn out to be as normal as watching TV and learning in them as normal as going to school.