Hi everyone. Finally back on the blog after a long hiatus getting settled in the new job. Today I am at the EDUCA conference in Berlin, what is probably the world’s largest e-learning conference. I must say, that after hearing so much of the same thing at conferences in the US year after year, it is refreshing to hear not only about new technologies in Europe, but just a subtle but palpable difference in perspective on digital learning.
One of the big differences is that I really have a several unique problems that need a technological solution. One is the need for really good lecture-capture software that also has live streaming built in. At Abu Dhabi University, we segregate the men and women (a cultural thing) but often need to teach them as one course due to enrollement size. Old style video conferencing has proven to be a very poor vehicle, and some of the major classroom capture companies are too expensive and/or need extra hardware to capture both the speaker and the other media. Enter Panopto. This one seems to have it all.
Good buy from Berlin for the moment
Daphne Bavelier and her team at the University of Rochester have been doing research looking at the effect of video gaming on something called visual attention. This is not the same as what we normally call “attention” which is really something we control and do on purpose. Visual attention is the brains ability to focus on an object or event withing the visual field. It seems that gamers can “see” something new in their visual field more quickly than non-gamers. It also appears that they can also pay simultaneous attention to more objects (gamers = 5, non-gamers = 3). Gamers I talked to said that they could easily keep track of more complex visual environments now than they could back when they started.
Now if we add the idea of cognitive exhaustion; that brains become more efficient in their use of energy (glucose) as it gets better at doing something, then it stands to reason that as gamers get better at “seeing” more objects or events in on the screen, that they do so more effortlessly, leaving more cognitive resources to other cerebral processes like motor reflex.
Over the last six years, there have been a number of studies where they place an individual in an fMRI and having them play a video game while measuring a variety of measures of cognitive activity. One that intrigues me happened a number of years ago at the University of Southern California, where subjects played a game called “Tactical Ops”. Normally, subjects stuck inside a pounding MRI machine can handle only a max of 20 minutes before a break. In this case, an hour later the players were still going strong.
The actual results of tracking the blood flow and measuring the dopamine levels is not nearly as important as what this says about attention and the power of intermittent reinforcement.
On a larger level, most studies have concluded that while there are definitely down-sides to digital game addiction, playing certain games can truly improve pattern recognition, systems thinking, patience, and peripheral vision.
Rick’s Recommended Games:
There is an area of the brain (the cingulate cortex for you neuro-geeks) that is partly concerned with how much attention is given to experiencing a particular pain. It has been found that the use of virtual reality is so stimulating, that it leaves less attention available to tune in to the pain… hence we don’t feel it as much. In this particular research, burn victims found relief by immersing themselves in cooling virtual environment.
You see, pain is all in the mind. Once the pain signal is sent to the brain, what we experience and how intensely we experience it is all a matter of how the brain interprets it. This is why when you touch something hot or very cold, for a split second you can’t tell the difference. This is also why we don’t notice a pain when we are very occupied. (ever notice a bruise later and not have any idea how you got it).
There is no doubt that most of us feel a bit overwhelmed by the information in our lives. Where did we put our car keys, what did I come into this room looking for? Am I growing senile already, is Alzheimers setting in. Have heart, you are probably normal. Biologically speaking, we are simply trying to cope with a rapid acceleration of information in our lives, with essentially the same brain that our Cro-Magnum ancestors had. Surveys of today’s modern office reveal that personnel were interrupted and distracted roughly every three minutes and people working on a computer had an average of eight windows open at a time. Edward Hallowel has termed this “Attention Deficit Trait” to distinguish it from the more biologically based ADHD. Consider that when we read a book or newspaper there are few integrated distractions to the activity of reading. Now consider what happens when you read the same newspaper online. Flashing or scrolling banners, multiple colored hyperlinks, flash animations parading across a part of the page, popup windows, and multiple small ads changing over time we look at them, or think about today’s TV, with additional information scrolling across the bottom, and text and graphic overlays poping up to advertize the next show. Couple this with the fact that we are probably surfing the Internet on our laptop as we “sort of” watch TV and we begin to see the emerging pattern of informational attention deficit.
The problem is that memory has everything to do with attention. We remember that which we attend to. In our case, it has long been known (since about the mid 1950’s) that our working memory can only hadle about seven of anything (numbers, words, pictures, steps etc.) Ever wonder why there are the seven wonders off the world, or the seven deadly sins, or even the seven days of the week? (this list goes on if you think about it)
When we are holding information in short term storage (working memory) prior to getting it into long term memory (like where you put your car keys down) and something garners our attention, the information that was in short term memory vanishes, just like your car keys.
So what does this have to do with technology. If you are a learning designer, keep the rule of seven in mind as you create instructional sequences, or instructions, and give your learners and users ways to process those seven pieces of information into long term memory before introducing new instruction or elements. This will build success and continued participation which is, after all one of the points of the technology you created.
Will ‘Rubi the Robot’ Be the Ultimate Teacher’s Aide?
In a first of its kind, Javier Movellan, Ph.D., at the University of California, San Diego’s Institute for Neural Computation has created a prototype of a robot that has succeeded in building a social bridge of acceptance with Pre-Schoolers. Young children have a severely limited threshold of engagement. Researchers found that if the robot responded to quickly, children ignored the response, and too late, they had already turned away. Additionally, if the robot repeated a toddlers sounds, then the child began to accept the robot as someone they can play with. The robot as also capable of provoking “shared attention” a critical developmental step for a young child to establish rapport, the foundation of communication.
For parents of young children, this confirms observations that young children often fail to engage with the technological marvels that we hope/expect young children to attend to. We buy fancy learning tools only to find a child immediately abandons the toy as soon as the parent ceases to play with it also. TV alone often does not hold their attention. This is why, of course, parents are the best playmates of all… social connection.
For game and electronic designers, this research has significant implications for incorporating the developmental elements that are necessary for the rapport that underlies a young child’s attention and engagement.
Brains as a Memory System: Video
Treo creator Jeff Hawkins urges us to take a new look at the brain — to see it not as a fast processor, but as a memory system that stores and plays back experiences to help us predict, intelligently, what will happen next.