Saturday, May 7, 2011

UDL and Productivity Games

Take a look at this link and try a few of these games.  The anti-stress youtube video and the Google ESP game are particularly noteworthy.

I'm inspired to see others are thinking of this idea of leveraging principles of play to increase productivity and product quality in work.  According to this article by Williams & Smith (, Microsoft has employed productivity games to beta test its Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems.  They do, however, caution companies in using these games:

"Productivity games are not a universal solution for every business process or task. Games introduce an alternative incentive system into the workplace as a byproduct of the game architecture and scoring of play. Since the workplace usually already has an incentive system in place – usually in the form of a paycheck, Productivity Game designers must be careful when, where and how they deploy games that can potentially impact existing incentives and rewards."

So, I think we're looking at a couple of scenarios here.  The first is a game that would be designed as a break from work to decrease stress and increase productivity.  The second is a game where the work is the game, such as Microsoft's beta testing.

How could this apply to a classroom setting?  If a student is frustrated and behaviour is escalating, could the anti-stress game be beneficial?  What if a student is having difficulty in writing and benefits from assistive technologies to support this?  Could a game designed to enhance writing be integrated into his day?

I need to further define the differences between Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and Assistive Technologies (AT).  According to Edyburn (2005), "good design for people with disabilities benefits everyone."  He goes on to consider UDL and AT on a continuum, stating, "at one end of the continuum, UDL seeks to reduce barriers for every- one. At the other end of the continuum, AT is used to reduce barriers for individuals with disabilities."

So, how can UDL principles be best applied in the design of productivity games and how can we leverage assistive technologies to make these games accessible for students with disabilities?

The Center (CAST) lists the following mission statement on their website:
"To expand learning opportunities for all individuals, especially those with disabilities, through the research and development of innovative, technology-based educational resources and strategies."
They advocate for UDL, defining it as "a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn" and that it "provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs."

In terms of my thesis, UDL becomes the platform for my research.  I would seek to further define UDL principles as a springboard to explore the merits of productivity games and the assistive technologies used to play them.  I would examine a number of productivity games (perhaps some exist on ipad?) and study their effects on student learning.  For example, would an anti-stress game introduced at set intervals help a reluctant writer produce more written content?  If the student is given the opportunity to self-regulate and choose when to use the anti-stress game, how effective would this be?

My main wondering is how can we leverage play to increase productivity?

To do:

1. Research UDL
2. Research play
3. Explore productivity games, a subcategory of serious games
4. What is my claim?  I believe we can increase work productivity in the classroom by either allowing for play breaks such as the anti-stress game or using a productivity game that facilitates work through play.  Now I have to prove it.

I believe that a UDL classroom promoting a climate of play will optimize student productivity in achieving curricular objectives.  With an intentionality behind the play and when presented in a variety of ways, including the use of assistive technologies, students will become more engaged in their learning, thereby increasing both quality and quantity of output.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Play Therapy - Google Sketchup / Project Spectrum

Came across an interesting article on play:
Smith and Pellegrini (2008) define and explore the role of play - language play, social play, object play, etc.  I then tracked down a site dedicated to play therapy with a mission statement "To be the leading professional organisation, in the world, dedicated to promoting the use of play and creative arts therapies (the therapies) as ways of enabling children to reach their full potential by alleviating emotional, behaviour and mental health problems."  Digging around a bit more, I found a digital art group hosted by Ginger Poole, Art Therapist, which offers sessions to teen and pre-teen boys with Asperger's Syndrome.

Its purpose:
"With help and support, they will make friends with other digital artists and will learn new techniques.  This group also has an online component. The members of the group will post art on a passcode protected blog site and respond to each other throughout the week to enhance the face-to-face relationships."

So what does this all mean for me?  I just wrapped up the first two courses of my graduate studies on User-Centred Design.  We took on a project to develop an app promoting the acquisition and application of social skills for children with Aspergers.  Overwhelmingly, boys are the target audience for this type of work.  So what if my thesis went this direction:

1. examine the role and importance of play in our lives - brain-based research

2. study a target group of Aspergers students, presenting them with digital art therapy opportunities.   I'm reading through Ginger Poole's website and I don't see any research her work is based upon.  I found this article published in Psychology Today by an art therapist Cathy Malchiodi (

Here, she cites some of the research being done on Aspergers and the digital arts.  Project Spectrum leverages the visual and spacial strengths of students with Aspergers by providing opportunities to represent designs in a 3-D environment.  The Youtube video on this site is worthwhile.

3. My goal: to determine how access to classroom-based digital arts programming improves social and/or academic outcomes for those diagnosed with Aspergers.  Some products to explore: Google Sketchup, Animoto, Xtranormal.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


I've got play on my mind this morning.  Yesterday I downloaded Duke Ellington's "The Ultimate Collection" on itunes.  Man, can he play.  I started thinking about my connection to play and how work and play are held in binary opposition.  Play is celebrated as leisure time while work is meant to be productive.  I play video and board games, play badminton and tennis, and occasionally play the guitar gathering dust in my living room.  These are specified as leisure activities.  I work as a teacher, graduate student, and father.  This is my work.

When I think about accounting, medicine, or finance, I categorize these kinds of occupations as work.  However, an actor, musician, or professional athlete falls under the category of play.  Why is this?  Can an accountant not play in her profession?  Is a hockey player working or playing?

I love this quote by Louis Armstrong:

"What we play is life."

We play roles.  An accountant will step into the role of how we expect a professional to act.  When we see a play, the actors are expected to stay in character.  Their work is to play.

The kindergarten program at our school is play-based.  It is designed with a series of centres for students to engage with, promoting the development of fine and gross motor skills, socialization, and the acquisition of math language skills.  The premise is that children learn through play.  How about adults?  Do we stop learning through play when we reach a certain age?  Can we only play in our work if we are in a field that allows it?

I have research to do in the area of play.  I'm going to start with a book, "Digital Play: the Interaction of Technology, Culture and Marketing"

Much play to do.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Risk Taking in Adolescence - Prefrontal Regions / Frontostriatal Circuitry

I continue to dig around for articles on risk-taking.  This one studies how the maturity of prefrontal regions and their connection to frontostriatal circuitry impacts risk taking behaviour.  My purpose and interest in this article is in optimizing a learning situation.  I want to know what the cognitive variables are that influence learning.  Does an optimal learning situation necessitate an element of risk?  ie. if adolescents are predisposed to risk-taking behaviour, how can we leverage this in learning?  How does technology factor into this?  How can technology augment and optimize a learning situation?

Earlier Development of the Accumbens Relative to
Orbitofrontal Cortex Might Underlie Risk-Taking Behavior
in Adolescents

The Journal of Neuroscience, 21 June 2006, 26(25): 6885-6892; doi: 10.1523/​JNEUROSCI.1062-06.2006

Adriana Galvan, Todd A. Hare, Cindy E. Parra, Jackie Penn, Henning Voss, Gary Glover, and B. J. Casey

    "The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that adolescence is a developmental period of increased responsivity to reward relative to childhood and adulthood" (p. 6885)

    "Adolescence is characterized by continued structural and functional development of frontostriatal circuitry implicated in behavioral regulation" (p. 6885)

    "These findings suggest that different developmental trajectories for these regions may relate to the increased impulsive and risky behaviors observed during this period of development" (p. 6889)

    "One goal of this study was to characterize reward learning across development. Adults showed behavioral distinction to the three cues, with fastest responses to the large reward cue. Adolescents showed less discrete responses and children show little to no learning" (p. 6890)

    "Here, our data suggest that reward-related neural responses influence behavioral output" (p. 6890)

    "Evidence from our study supports the notion that relative reward preference is exaggerated during adolescence: adolescents showed an enhanced accumbens response to the large reward and a decrease in activity to the small reward relative to other rewards and to other ages" (p. 6890)

    "Adolescents report greater intensity of positive feelings and more positive BOLD signal intensity than adults during a win condition (Ernst et al., 2005). The adolescents may have viewed the small reward as an omission of reward, similar to lack of an expected event at a given time, previously shown to decrease striatal activity (Davidson et al., 2004). This finding corresponded to a slowing of reaction time from early to late trials for the smaller rewards, providing additional evidence that this condition may have been perceived as more negative for adolescents. Together, these findings imply that reward perception might be influenced by changes in neural systems during adolescence (Irwin, 1993)" (p. 6890)

    "Understanding the development of structural and functional connectivity of reward-related mesolimbic circuitry may further inform the field on the neurobiological basis of increased reward-seeking and adolescent-onset addiction"(p. 6891)

    "Thus, disproportionate contributions of subcortical systems relative to prefrontal regulatory systems may underlie poor decision-making that predisposes adolescents to drug use and, ultimately, addiction." (p. 6891)

    Monday, March 21, 2011

    Risk Taking Study - Measuring Risk Using a Video Game, "Chicken"

    A study by Gardner & Steinberg (2005) measuring risk taking behaviour of adolescents vs. adults using a video game, "Chicken."  Users were tested on how long they would allow a virtual car to travel, knowing that a wall would pop up at some time between when the traffic light changed from yellow to red.  Points were allocated for waiting longer before stopping the car.  Restarts were also allowed if users wanted to go further and score more points.

    In terms of gender, the study "found few significant gender effects. There were no differences between males and females on risk taking or risky decision making, nor were there any significant two-way interaction effects involving gender on measures of these constructs" (p. 630).

    The study did find "differences in age and condition effects on the measure of risk preference. First, males gave significantly greater weight to the benefits of risky decisions than did females" and "second, we found that males weighted the benefits of risky activities more heavily when in a group than when alone, but that cost– benefit consideration did not differ substantially between the group and sole participant conditions among females.  Lastly, "among younger individuals, males weighted the benefits of risky decisions more heavily than did females but that among older individuals males and females gave comparable weights to the benefits of risky decisions" (p. 630).


    "Between adolescence and adulthood there is a significant decline 
    in both risk taking and risky decision making. In addition, our 
    findings suggest that, in some situations, individuals may take 
    more risks, evaluate risky behavior more positively, and make 
    more risky decisions when they are with their peers than when they 
    are by themselves. Most importantly, the effects of peer presence 
    on both risk taking and risky decision making vary as a function of 
    age" (p. 632).

    "We did find some interesting gender differences in risk preference, 
    however. Specifically, males, particularly at younger ages, 
    were more likely than were females to weigh the benefits of risky 
    activities over the costs. Additionally, peer effects on benefit 
    versus cost consideration were greater among males than among 
    females. Although we did not explicitly predict these gender 
    differences, our findings are consistent with several previous studies. 
    For instance, Parsons, Halkitis, Bimbi, and Borkowski (2000) 
    found that, among young adults, males reported more benefits and 
    fewer risks when asked about the consequences of risky behaviors. 
    Additionally, Brown et al. (1986) found that, at least among 
    adolescents, males are more susceptible to peer influence than are 
    females in antisocial or risky situations. Nonetheless, it is interesting 
    that these gender related differences in risk– benefit consideration 
    did not translate into gender differences on the more direct 
    measures of risk taking or risky decision making" (p. 633).

    So if I'm going this direction, I will have to take what we know about risk taking and apply it to a learning situation with specific outcomes.  Initially I was thinking of gender differences in relation to risk taking among individual boys and girls, however, Michele has me thinking about collaboration and participatory learning environments.  The Gardner & Steinberg study raises questions of how males might collaborate in a learning situation that promotes risk-taking.

    Here's what this could look like:

    male individual - low risk learning scenario
    female individual - high risk learning scenario
    male group - low risk learning scenario
    female group - high risk learning scenario

    What would a low risk or high risk learning situation look like?  How do we define risk taking in learning?

    Saturday, March 19, 2011

    Puddle Jumping - Boys and Risk Taking

    This week a glorious Chinook swept through Calgary.  Off came the toques and mittens, winter jackets and scarves, and ice began to thaw.  The temperature shifted so much in fact, that the ice melted into sizeable pools of water, dirtying vehicles and splashing unsuspecting pedestrians.

    At our school, ever curious elementary children began to explore into these pools of ice water.  Chunks of ice skimmed across the surface while winter boots and wooly socks sponged up cold water.  Our administration responded by making regular cautionary announcements, stationing a perimeter of pylons, and stepping up supervision around these ponds.

    While on supervision, I witnessed a grade 2 boy testing the limits of our "stay out of the frozen pool of water in the playground" policy.  He observed the pylons, dipping the toe of his boot just along the border of the pond. He delighted in the sharp crackle of the ice when his toe broke through.  The boy soon got caught in the moment.  His other boot followed suit, testing the limits of the ice and his supervisor.  It wasn't long before both boots full on plunged into the water.  The boy squealed, flapped his arms and spun around, swirling loose pieces of ice.  Though inside I was delighted by spirit of this boy's exploration, my professional duties won over and I asked him to leave the area as it was deemed unsafe.

    Risk management.  At what cost?   At our school, we speak about taking risks in our practice and encouraging students to take risks in their learning.  I've accepted this, seemingly without question, for the past few years.  Now I wish to confront it.  What does this actually mean?

    I dug up an article titled, "Why Do Boys Engage in More Risk Taking Than Girls?  The Role of Attributions, Beliefs, and Risk Appraisals" by Barbara A. Morrongiello and Heather Rennie.  The article begins by citing research on gender differences in relation to risk taking, such as activity levels, socialization, amount of direct supervision, and constraints parents place upon each gender.  Morrongiello and Rennie (1998) identify the purpose of their research, which is to examine "the possibility that cognitive-based factors also may contribute to increased injury liability among boys" They assessed "children's beliefs about their personal vulnerability" and whether "they are less susceptible to injury than their peers" (p. 34).  These researchers conducted a survey with a sample of boys and girls, asking them to rate a series of scenarios on their relative risk.  They discovered that "for the highest risk condition, boys' risk ratings for the confident wary-affect displays were significantly less than the corresponding ratings by girls" (p. 38).  Also, "boys attributed more injuries to bad luck" and "expressed more of an optimism bias than girls" (p. 40).  Interestingly, in terms of peer influence, boys may be more inclined than girls to engage in an injury-risk activity even if they observe a peer get hurt doing the activity" (p. 41).

    So what does this all mean for my research?  Going back to my original post, my goal in this thesis is to "to determine how to best meet the learning needs of a boy."  Given a boy's propensity to take risks, how can we harness this behaviour and apply it in a productive and meaningful way in the classroom?

    Monday, February 21, 2011

    Call of Duty

    How did Treyarch do it?  The developer behind Call of Duty: Black Ops managed to break the record for "the largest ever entertainment launch in history in any form of entertainment" with sales of "$310 million within the first day."  I want to know how.

    The topic of this blog post will need to be explored in more depth, however I'd like to start with the reflective level of Norman's Three Levels of Design (visceral, behavioural, and reflective) in relation to the Call of Duty franchise.  In his book, Emotional Design, Norman talks about how at the reflective level, "the overall impact of a product comes through reflection - in retrospective memory and reassessment" (p. 88).  The first Call of Duty game was launched in 2003 with each subsequent iteration of the game operating at the reflective level.  The nostalgia factor and "gamer cred" associated with playing these games provides fodder for marketing campaigns in the form of game trailers, multiplayer advertising, reviews, and toys.  Interestingly, Activision, the publisher of these games, has also created a Call of Duty Endowment, aimed at supporting U.S. veterans to find employment.  All of these measures serve to satisfy the reflective level of design, ensuring the continued longevity of the franchise.  Previous Call of Duty games then help to explain part of Treyarch's success with Black Ops.

    I have more to explore on this subject.  Where I am going with this is to take a prominent digital success story (in terms of sales, ethics and moral considerations are another issue entirely), study it and ask how this can be replicated in education.  Call of Duty has successfully engaged millions of people worldwide.   If I were to introduce a digital learning tool to a student, how could I achieve the engagement level synonymous with this franchise?  At the core, what is Call of Duty doing right that could be revamped and presented in an educational context to engage boys?