Learning and eLearning
I just completed a new page at Red7.com that describes the major mixed-reality games I’ve run since 2004 — take a look.
Since I speculated (a few years ago) that we could create really great mixed-reality games (or learning experiences, for that matter) that would utilize all sorts of real-world media including SMS, video, telephones, FAX, email and web, I’ve been working to develop more of these games and get them played. I started by developing a scenario-operating-system that could run on a server, “listen” to incoming SMS and email messages, and react appropriately to move “players” through the game. This system is in place today, and listening for certain key words in incoming messages the set players off on a chase through the game of their choosing.
While experimenting with the scenario system, the team and I learned a lot. We learned that people have trouble with SMS messaging. We learned that email works (now that smartphones support email) better. We learned they’ll call a phone number, but they’ll hesitate because they don’t know for sure that the number is in-game. We learned that they like certainty more than experimentation. And we learned they ultimately will be creative if given the right opportunity.
Oh, and there’s a new game being planned right now.
 Mixed-reality means combining game play in such a way that it plays out in real life but uses digital media either in or to control parts of the game.
 SMS (also called TEXT or TXT in the US) messaging is the first method we used to get messages to and from the players. To avoid certain technical difficulties with SMS, including charges, we used email gateways, which are provided by mobile system operators. These did not work well because many people were unfamiliar with the ways they could send and receive email from their phones.
 We used call-in phone messages in almost all of the games. These are answer-only phone numbers where a simple message is played for each caller. Each message describes the next step in the game. I thought it would be fun to customize those messages for the players, but we haven’t gotten around to doing it… it’s a technology challenge that involves call-director, voice-response, XML-controlled systems.
John Francis is a really motivated learner and educator. He walked the world for 17 years silently. Yes, without speaking. And today he is most definitely talking about it. What he says contains a lot of messages—there’s certainly one in there for you. [I heard him speak at the Digital Earth Symposium, held at the University of California, Berkeley, in 2007.]
In 1971 he witnessed two tankers colliding, creating an oil spill in San Francisco Bay, and decided to give up riding in motorized vehicles. He began walking everywhere he went. “I thought that if I started walking, everyone would follow.” So on his 27th birthday, he decided he would stop speaking for just one day “to give it a rest.” “I have to tell you it was a very moving experience…for the very first time I began listening.” He realized that (as a regular speaking human) he listened to only the first few words or sentences when someone was talking, and then “my mind would race ahead” thinking about what “I was going to say in response.” He decided to do this for another day, and another day, and this stretched to a year, and then lasted 17 years. [Continue reading and you can also view the TED talk given by John Francis in 2008...] (continue reading…)
The Electronic Frontier Foundation [EFF.ORG] has a “patent busting” activity that watches for patents that “should never have been granted” (my language) and works to invalidate them, or at least invalidate as many of their claims as possible. You’d be amazed at the kinds of things that have been patented that were just plain obvious, or had clearly been invented years before by someone else. I’m particularly sensitive to this because of my long history in computer-based learning and education. As an example, EFF is focusing on busting a patent on online test-taking. This one hinges on a method for charging for the tests and splitting the revenue, but nevertheless it seems absurd that someone could obtain a patent on splitting revenues from test-taking, doesn’t it?
 A patent hinges on any number of “claims” which are generally separate and somewhat independent of each other, and these are usually structured in such a way that they’re like ”gotchas” — if the patent owner can’t get you on one of them he may get you on another of them. There is a tension between how much is claimed by the inventor and what claims the patent office allows — and this back-and-forth starts at the time a patent application is filed, continuing until the patent is either issued, claims are removed, or the application is denied. On a granted patent, its strength is generally related to how many claims there are and how broadly they can be applied to a competing invention. Attacking a patent involves showing that individual claims should be invalidated, until you have either stricken the entire patent or reduced it to a few claims that are so weak it can no longer be effectively used.
My hero in acapella music/rhythm/entertainment is Bobby McFerrin. Haven’t seen him on a stage for a long time, so when this came across my desktop I couldn’t resist. It shows how preprogrammed we are – and it also shows how many people in the audience were able to read music, because if they didn’t understand a (piano) keyboard they wouldn’t have been able to make it happen.