Recently in Games Category

Badges at Penn State

| 2 Comments | 0 TrackBacks

Wondering what badges are? Wondering what's happening with badges at Penn State? Read on!

(My thanks to Ken Layng of ITS Training Services for much of the information provided here.)

What are "Badges"?

NoTBadge.jpgBadges are like digital extensions to an identity. They help learners to establish credibility based on informal learning. They are used to "certify" information that has been consumed by badge earners. This can be assessed or non-assessed learning, ad determined by the badge issuer. For example, we might issue badges to people who are present at a workshop, but we might also require some measurement of comprehension and retention before issuing a badge. 

What are "Open" Badges?

Open Badges is a project initiated by Mozilla to create a framework for badge infrastructure. Google has a similar project underway, but it is not nearly as mature. The Mozilla framework consists of three components: 1) Issuer, 2) Earner, and 3) Displayer. An "Issuer" is an organization that can 'award certified badges to learners.' An "Earner" is an individual that can collect badges to represent an accumulation of knowledge, skill or proficiency. Badges can be placed in an online repository belonging to the user called the "Badge Backpack." With this Backpack, earners can collect, manage, and display the badges they have earned. A "Displayer" is any online presence or service provider that can display badges. Examples of displayers include the blogs, social media sites, and even resumes. An optional fourth component is the "Endorser." An endorser is any organization or individual that signs the badge with their private encryption key, thereby attesting to the badge's value.

Here is an example of a simplified badge process.


Someone issues me a badge. In this case, Ken Layng of ITS Training Services issued me a "Project Leader" badge, using the tools provided at . I receive an email informing me of this. I go to, sign in, and send the badge to my badge backpack, part of Mozilla's Open Badges infrastructure. (BTW - I previously created my backpack.) Then I sign into my backpack and accept the badge. From there, I can choose to share it publicly or not, and can send/embed a URL for others to view my badge(s).

What are the Potential Benefits to Penn State?

Enhance Digital Identity

Badges enhance one's digital identity and reputation. This is great for e-Portfolios! Badges raise your profile within the learning community and peers and allow you to aggregate identities from across other communities. Specifically:

  • Provides a more complete picture of the learner: Badges provide a more granular and complete picture of skills and learning history for potential employers, schools, peer groups and others than a traditional degree.
  • Informal certification: Learners can get credit and recognition for the learning that happens outside of school.  e.g., in after-school programs, work experience or online.
  • Third-party validation: Attesting to competency and participation, rather than self-attesting, establishes credibility, trust, and legitimacy
  • Signals achievement: Badges signal skills and achievements to peers, potential employers, educational institutions and others.
  • Recognizes new hard skills and literacies: New  literacies that are critical to success in today's digital world--like  appropriating information, judging its quality, multitasking and  networking--are not typically taught in schools and don't show up on a  transcript. Badges can recognize these new skills and literacies.
  • Recognizes soft skills: With recognition of social habits, motivation, etc. badges are able to recognize a greater diversity of soft skills than traditional programs measure or even recognize.

Enable Global Perspectives

Badges allow one to share their skill set with the world. This fosters flexibility and connections.

  • Transfer learning across spaces and contexts: Skills are made more portable across jobs, learning environments and places through badges.
  • Build community and social capital: Badges help learners find peers or mentors with similar interests. Community badges help formalize camaraderie, team synthesis and communities of practice.

Better Instruction

Badges tap into some basic learning psychological principles for the learner.

  • Motivate participation and learning outcomes:  Badges provide feedback, milestones and rewards throughout a course or  learning experience, encouraging engagement and retention.
  • Unlock privileges: A test becomes a reward. For example, students at a school computer lab might be required to earn a "Digital Safety" badge  before being allowed to surf the web.
  • Allow multiple pathways to learning: Badges encourage learners to take new paths or spend more time developing specific skills.
  • Support greater specialization and innovation: Badges can support specialized and emerging fields that are not in traditional learning environments.

Better Instructional Management

Badges enable a better understanding of the individual.

  • Capture the learning path and history: With  degrees or cumulative grades, much of the learning path -- the set of steps  and milestones that led to the degree -- is lost or hard to see. Badges can capture a more specific set of skills and qualities as they occur  along the way, along with issue dates for each. This means we can track  the set of steps the most successful learners take to gain their  skills -- and potentially replicate that experience for others.
  • Assist in Accreditation: By capturing the learning path, meeting the documentation needs of accreditation agencies will be eased.

Badges at Penn State

Well, they don't really exist -- yet. Ken Layng of ITS Training Services began investigating badges several months ago, and I've been following the data stream on them for some time. Most of what you've read above comes from Ken's work, so kudos to Ken! Ken organized a Yammer group to invite interested folks in to start looking at this in April 2012, and once we had some preliminary groundwork down, we initiated a meeting with Chris Millet and Chris Stubbs of Education Technology Services, with the hopes we could work together to investigate this from an "all-PSU" perspective. As an aside, this aligns nicely with a desire from ITS senior leadership to approach new opportunities like this from a matrixed organizational view, as opposed to our traditional siloed approach.

At Training Services, we're investigating two potential ways to serve badges. One is via a company named BadgeStack. They offer a complete, nearly turnkey solution that includes a humble content-management system. The other is via a cloud provider ( that offers a simple interface to serve badges. Both have potential, but it's just too soon to draw any conclusions or recommendations.

ETS is working on a meeting with folks both inside and outside of ITS to gather perspectives, and Training Services will be part of that conversation. Hopefully we'll come away from the meeting with a better perspective on directions to pursue with this great opportunity. 

Moving Forward...

There are no conclusions yet, just plenty of questions and investigations. So stay tuned all - this is an exciting new way to capture your learning (and assessment of it), validate it, and display it to the world!

Discover PSU!

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
For the past several years, I've been kicking around an idea for a multi-year game that you could start playing as a prospective PSU student, continue playing during your time at PSU, and optionally continue as an alumni.

The main problem is conceptualizing a game of this scope. How do you build a game that has such a long life? We can take clues from several existing casual games out there that do have an infinite play life, like Kingdom of Loathing or Shakes and Fidget. In both examples, you have limited play time per day, dictated via a limited number of turns or adventures per day. For KoL, you can finish the game, "ascend," and play again. And again, And again. Each time you ascend you get to keep one skill you learned in that game run. This, in turn, enables you to accomplish things in later ascensions that you simply could not do earlier.

So, there are ways to conceptualize a game with a very long play life. Now, what about content? Do we have a game area for each college? How do we populate it? How do we bring in people from each college to build out that area? How do we maintain that area, change it over time to both reflect changes in the college itself and to increase replay-ability? This is a tougher challenge. Maybe badges are part of the solution.

My colleague Ken Layng and I are investigating Mozilla's Open Badges for possible use in ITS Training Services. A badge is a symbol or indicator of an accomplishment, skill, quality or interest. Badges can be used to represent achievements, communicate successes, set goals, and motivate behaviors,. They can  support learning that happens in new ways and new spaces beyond the  traditional classroom. These include online courses, after-school  programs, work and life experiences. By providing a more complete  picture of learners' skills and competencies, badges can signal  achievement to a variety of communities and institutions including  potential employers, educational organizations and social groups. One opts to display their earned badges via the web.

Thumbnail image for Badge-diagram-2.2.jpg
The work we're doing on badges led me to think how they might fit into Discover PSU! Suppose we worked with colleges to develop a set of badges at both the major and overall college level. These badges would be earned via traditional coursework, so we wouldn't be asking for a retooling of any curriculum. Then, in the game, a player who had one of these badges would have access to a new area, gain a new skill, etc. The incentive to earn badges would come both from the desire to build up your curriculum badges for an online e-Portfolio-like display of abilities, and to better play the game. Better game play, in turn, could feed back into a more holistic understanding of your major, your college, and the entire PSU system. It would also be an incentive to continue playing the game beyond graduation and could lead to increased involvement in the future of PSU via a strong alumni base.

So how do we start? What if we reverse engineer this game? In most games, the game comes first, then a community springs up around it. What if we built the community FIRST, encouraged active participation in conceptualizing the game via tools such as Wikis, and then built the game when we reached a point where we all felt further conceptualization should wait until the game went live and run for some time?

What are your thoughts on all this? I really need some input on this concept.

University of Pennsylvania's "Year of the Game"

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Wow - would I love to see this happen at Penn State!

For the University of Pennsylvania, the 2011-2012 academic year has been dubbed "The Year of the Game." The University's various departments are all encouraged to weave games into curricula. The folks at Penn Nursing School have designed several games, and have an open demo scheduled on April 19, from 3 - 5 PM.

My favorite line in the interview of Professor Nancy Hanrahan?

What are the incentives for the students to participate?

These students were just waiting for something like this.


White House office studies benefits of video games

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Short version: The White House has an Office of Science and Technology Policy. Since September, Constance Steinkuehler has been a senior policy analyst for this office, where she's shaping the Obama administration's policies around games that improve health, education, civic engagement and the environment, among other areas.

Longer story - with pictures!

This is great news! I've met Constance, and IMO she is perfect for the job. I'm also thrilled that the President is doing some serious investigation in this area.

Augmented Reality and Training

| 1 Comment | 0 TrackBacks
I've been interested in Augmented Reality and Gaming for some time now. Augmented Reality is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. AR for games is cool,  but as Karl Kapp recently pointed out, the uses for training may be astounding.

One of the earliest examples I saw of this was from the 1990 movie Total Recall. If you saw that movie, remember when Sharon Stone (in her debut screen role) was practicing tennis? She had a hologram instructor upon which she could model her swing. Neat stuff. Or as Arnold would say, "Auuggghhhh!" She needs to raise her elbow a bit more, however.

But what can we actually do right now, or at least in the near future? We don't have viable holograms, so we're forced to look through something like a computer, smart phone, iPad, or glasses to "get augmented."

BMW has a great example of how this might work. Heck, even I might be able to do car repairs with something like this!

For something like cars, this makes great sense. You can't bring a car into a computer lab and run a training module beside the car while you work on it. You can take a laptop to a car, but it's less than ideal. You've have to stop what you were doing, tap the keyboard (greasy!), etc. Glasses, augmented reality, a voice over, and perhaps voice-activated commands ("Show me that last step again.") would be of great benefit to anyone.

For the types of training many of us do around computer-related applications, would we need AR? I don't see the benefit, but maybe I'm missing something. What do you think?

The Game Mechanics Game

| 1 Comment | 0 TrackBacks

At the Penn State Network of Trainers Summer 2011 Event, I decided to try something a little different with my poster titled "Adding Game-like Elements to Your Course." I created a billboard and added over 25 game mechanics to it with the idea that folks would come up to me, pull up a flap with a picture on it and read what that game mechanic was.

It was somewhat of a success, but I'm not sure I would do it again. Many folks were too shy to engage me in that manner, and to fit all the game mechanics on the billboard I had to make each mechanic small and thus hard to read. Still, it was great fun!

In another month I'll be guest lecturing in Comm 190 at Penn State, Games and Interactive Media. I decided to take the game mechanics and images and turn them into a card game.

The game consists of Game Mechanic cards:


and Discipline cards:


Here are the rules:

  1. Challenge another player for one of their Game Mechanic cards by choosing and presenting a Game Mechanic card and a Discipline card from your deck.
  2. If the other player accepts the challenge, s/he must choose a Game Mechanic card from his/her deck.
  3. Find a third (or more), non-playing judge(s).
  4. Read aloud your Game Mechanic card.
  5. Opponent must read aloud his/her chosen Game Mechanic card.
  6. Give an example of how to use your game mechanic in the discipline listed on the Discipline card.
  7. Your opponent must give an example of how to use his/her game mechanic in the discipline listed on his/her Discipline card.
  8. Judge picks a winner - who gave the best example? Winner takes one randomly chosen Game Mechanic card from the loser.
At the end of game play, the player with the most card wins!

I do have to tip my hat to Metagames for the format of all this. I played a similar game by them recently. I can't wait to try this out. My hope is this will introduce the students to the idea of game mechanics and how they might be used in instructional situations. I also hope the post-game debrief will lead to some interesting conversations.

Minions, Peons, Lackeys, and Stooges

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Action Games and Role-Playing Games (RPGs) architectures often include several levels of "live" obstacles, from weak (easily defeated) characters to strong (tough to beat) bosses. In a previous post I diagrammed the relation of the weaker characters to the stronger. Recently I started thinking about the names we used for the weaker characters we encounter in games (and perhaps the work environment) and came up with four names: Minion, Peon, Lackey, and Stooge. Are these just names, or do they imply something more? Let's take a look at their respective definitions, courtesy of Wikipedia.


A minion.

A minion is a follower devoted to serving his master relentlessly.


A peon.

The word peon has a range of meanings but its primary usage is to describe laborers with little control over their employment conditions.


A lackey.

A lackey or lacquey is a term for a uniformed manservant, in its original meaning. The modern connotation of "servile follower" appeared later, in 1588. Lackey is typically used as a derogatory term for a servant with little or no self-respect, who belittles themselves in order to gain advantage. Such advantage is often assumed to be slight, temporary and often illusory.


A stooge.

A stooge is generally defined as a person that is under the control of another. Being called a stooge is an insult. Stooge can also sometimes be used to mean "idiot."

I also came across a few other related terms: Sycophant, Flunky, and Toady.


A sycophant.

  1. One who uses compliments to gain self-serving favor or advantage from another.
  2. One who seeks to gain through the powerful and influential.

A flunky.

A sycophant; a servant or hanger-on who is kept for their loyalty or muscle rather than their intellect.


A sycophant.

Wow - we have all sorts of words to describe the followers of others. In the case of most action games and RPGs, these folks are evil to boot; creatures you have to defeat not just to win the game, but to deliver the world from the clutches of evil!

How does this play out in an educational environment with added game-like elements? First, we need a richer vocabulary to describe prerequisite learning skills. Currently we have "skill" and "pre-requisite" skill. Dull, limiting, and perhaps dangerous. If we can't clearly define types of pre-requisite skills, then it may be difficult to determine the best approach to teaching that skill. Also, we have no way to map the instructional type to the best game-like approach.

Just taking a stab at this, we could begin defining pre-requisite skills just as we do the to-be-learned skill by asking the following: Is the pre-req in the psychomotor, cognitive, or affective domain? (See for more on these domains.)

If it is in the psychomotor domain, is it an observing skill, an imitating skill, a practicing skill, or an adapting skill?

If it is a cognitive skill, is it a remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, or create skill?

If it is an affective skill, is it at the receiving, responding, valuing, organization, or characterization by value level of commitment.

 Once you have that, how do you tie this to a gamelike element? Hmmm. I think I'll save that for another post; this one is long enough! I'm not sure you can even do so in a way that can be easily operationalized.

The Gamify Network is Open for Business, er, Games

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
I've been following this group for some time. On July 7th, they formally announced they are open!

In their words....

The Gamify Network is the largest network of gamification sites in the world, created by Gamify, Inc.

Gamify is on an EPIC quest to gamify the world, making it a more fun and rewarding place to live in.

This site has some interesting ideas, tools and ways to gamify your site. It's  too bad that some educators don't like the word 'gamify.' I hope they set semantics aside and look for the best this concept has to offer.

See  for more info.

Also, do check out their wiki at . Even if you don't  buy gamification, if you are an educator you will learn a great deal about game constructs and the purposes they serve in game design. You can't help but see some educational opportunities in these mechanics!

Creating a World of Warcraft-Based Learning Project

| 0 Comments | 0 TrackBacks
Lucas Gillispie and Craig Lawson have used WOW in class for several years. Now they've created a guide of sorts titled "WOW in School: A Hero's Journey" to assist others interested in doing the same!

Do check it out. Even if you don't have any interest in using WOW in an educational setting, it's wroth looking at how they took a commercial game and adapted it to teach a variety of educational concepts,  the costs associated with it,etc.