Authentic Games & PBL: March 2010 Archives

Living in Grayscale

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There are a variety of color blindness testers, but a new one from A List Apart is Nocturne, a free Mac app which allows you to quickly disable color on your monitors, add tints or even invert the colors of your monitor.

In fact, I'm writing this blog entry in grayscale mode right now. Cool!.

In terms of accesibility, gray scale is recommended as a way to sense how well a Website will perform in terms of contrast and color blindness, which also relies on contrast. While it's good to see how your Websites check out (most are usable) and how Madonna looks in black and white (awesome of course), I found the real challenge was in doing something playing a video game.

So, I experimented with playing a version of Bejeweled in black and white because you have to rely on color so much. Result: Total nightmare!. Although I'm able to decipher static icons and menus and enjoy Youtube videos, the result for the game was a major meltdown. It moves very fast, and some of the shapes are quite similar - it was really hard to distinguish the spherical jewels from the hexagonal jewels and the octagonal jewels. The hue really is the major cue here.

Screen shot of Bejeweled - gird is filled with colored gems of different shapes

Screen cap in black and white

Inverted mode was also interesting. The play was easier, but a some of the colors inverted to similar shades of blue. This is similar to the problem most color deficient viewers have - they can see colors, but not all of them. Colors which contrast vividly for us, particularly red/green, are just similar shades of yellow or brown for this audience.

Screen capture - colors inverted

So for me, the main lesson is that color deficiency is not a huge challenge (obviously), but there can be an impact in speed if shapes are not distinct enough. Fortunately, I think most color deficient folks have had a lot of practice compensating.

Achiever vs. Explorer Learning

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A recent gaming concept I became acquainted with was Bartle's playing modes which include socializing, dominating, achieving and exploring. I was able to rule myself as a socializer (more solitaire please) and a dominator (as much as I like a good flame war, I try not to start one).

But that left exploration and achievement...which I do like, but rarely at the same time. Although I enjoy both modes, I think they contradict each other somewhat for me. To be really simplistic, I associate achievement mode with "school" and exploring learning with "research."

When I am in achievement mode, I want it to be structured, have clear goals and guidelines and to be efficient. I want to know just the information I will need to achieve the goal (an A, a certificate, a passing score, whatever). Rewards are definitely more extrinsic, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the process. I really do enjoy learning "stuff", but I will confess to being impatient if I don't pick it up quickly. I also tend to be more "instructor oriented", that is I want to know what the INSTRUCTOR thinks is important to I can give the "right answer." In one sense, I treat school as a bit of a game, and I know I am not alone.

But achievement mode is different. I am happy to have a structure (preferably one I decide on), but am happy to wander off the beaten path. The one thing I am not to happy about having is either a score or a timeline. Yes, I want to know what others think, but want to be free to form my own judgment, regardless of any other opinion. And if I decide something leads to a dead end, I want to be free to drop it. So...although I enjoy achieving in academics, it is difficult for me to enjoy exploring in academics. The guidelines are much fuzzier and the stakes for being "wrong" seem much higher. And again, I don't think I am alone in this thought.

Let's compare and contrast.

Achieving Wants Exploring Wants
  • Instructor oriented
  • Extrinsic rewards
  • Clear grading rubric
  • Clear goals
  • Clear information, stick to topic and clear "rules"
  • Insight into instructor mindset
  • Self oriented
  • Intrisic rewards
  • Create rubric, structure
  • Freedom to deviate
  • Freedom to drop experiment/research
  • Mentoring only upon request

Ironically though, exploration probably leads to more meaningful learning for a student. A student learns a lot by pursuing his or own interest, but probably needs some mentoring at some point to make sure the results are "on track". But how can we convince students to take the chances you need to take to switch from "achieving" to "exploring?"

I think this something a good mentor needs to help students with. I distinctly writing my first undergrad thesis. There was a theoretical point that I knew my advisor disagreed with so I was trying to tip toe around the issue. I finally asked what he "wanted", and he replied that he wanted me to spell out what it was I really thought - so I did. Fortunately, he really meant what he said and approved the text based on my argumentation.

I was a lot more confident doing the same thing after that. It's a tricky point to navigate though as both a student and a mentor. But it's critical to helping students really becoming more comfortable "exploring" in the classroom rather than just "acheiving."