Video Games and Learning

Originally Posted: April 12, 2011

Green 3D Puppet Pulling Another Puppet Out of Laptop ScreenVideo Games and Learning

We are well into the information age, and educators are at the forefront of this paradigm shift.  Additionally, educators must have a concrete understanding of learning theory in order to create successful courses.  Professor Ted Henning asks whether students agree or disagree with the argument presented by Prensky, Gee and other researchers, “…that video games and technology have fundamentally changed the way students have learned how to learn” (Personal communication, April 10, 2011). 


Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education, answers this question best in an interview with ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine where she states, “When you add any new technology…something is amplified, and something is reduced.  Part of being literate in the 21st century…is being able to make careful decisions about technologies and their uses” (2011, p. 20).

Learning Theory

“Learning theories attempt to describe how humans learn….what are the key elements in the process of gaining new knowledge and capabilities and how those elements interact” (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008, p. 18).  Fundamentally, the three main learning theories (isms) are still at play even with students‘ increased use of video games and technology.  


The theory of behaviorism is based on physical events that are visually discernible, in other words, a person’s behavior.  Learning takes place when desired behaviors are reinforced or rewarded, and undesired behaviors are ignored or punished; this is called operant conditioning (Medsker & Holdsworth, 2001).  The theory of behaviorism is very much at play in most video games.  There are very specific behaviors that lead to winning, successfully completing quests, and/or developing a following in the online gaming world.


Taking a slightly different approach when compared to behaviorists, supporters of the cognitivist theory focus on that learning which occurs in the mind of the learner.  Supporters concentrate on the visual aspects of content delivery concerning themselves with the learner’s ability to recall the material being conveyed (Januszewski & Molenda, 2008).  This theory is also very much utilized in the video game world – especially when it comes to role playing games, and even first-person shooter games that blend aspects of real time strategy into mission objectives.


In describing Constructivism, it may be easier to begin by confirming that it is neither behaviorism, nor cognitivism.  Medsker and Holdsworth (2001) go on to explain that adherents to this theory believe in granting learners more control and freedom to decide the direction of their learning.  According to this theory, the goal of the instructional designer is to provide an immersive training environment where learners are able to engage in a hands-on approach to learning.  Not to be left out, constructivism is very much  a part of the various role playing games that are available.  Additionally, constructivism is a big part of many immersive virtual 3D worlds such as Second Life.

επιλεκτικής : An Eclectic Approach

From a personal standpoint, the “ism” which I adhere to is “eclecticism”.  When it comes to learning, there is no “one size fits all” approach.  People are different, and as such, people learn in a myriad of ways.  According to Januszewski and Molenda (2008), an eclectic approach combines ideas from the different learning theories without forcing the implementation of an entire “parent theory”. 


Like any other tool, mainstream video games have a double-edge.  When implemented properly as part of the learning process, they truly can bring a subject alive for students and generate enthusiasm like never before.  However, if implemented haphazardly for the sole purpose of “hoping” to connect with students, an educator can quickly lose control and oversight of the original objective(s).

Three for Me

The three games (and their respective genres) that I have chosen to research utilizing the XBOX 360 platform are: Call of Duty: Black Ops (First-Person Shooter), Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution (Real Time Strategy), and The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion (Role-Playing Game).  Both, Call of Duty and Sid Meier’s Civilization have an enormous amount of information that could easily be incorporated into just about any World History/Geography lesson.  Both games provide several opportunities for (a)synchronous class discussions and/or debates.  The Oblivion game may take a little more creativity to implement, but can be used for lessons that involve social interaction skills, economic principles of supply/demand and/or concepts of buying low and selling high.



ASCD. (2011, February). Transforming education with technology: A conversation with Karen  Cator. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 17-21.

Januszewski, A., & Molenda, M. (2008). Educational technology: A definition with commentaryNew York, NY: Routledge.

Medsker, K. L., & Holdsworth, K. M. (2001). Models and strategies for training designSilver Spring, MD: International Society for Performance Improvement.


Best Practices in Virtual Learning Environments

Originally Posted: March 23, 2011

Woman holding a future digital reportBest Practices in Virtual Learning Environments defines best practice as “the recognized methods of correctly running businesses or providing services” (World English dictionary section, para. 1).  When based on principles, the same activities that constitute best practices in “traditional education” will, usually, translate well across any medium chosen for course delivery.  For a course to be of value, it has to answer a need – successfully.  This is where Instructional Design (ID) becomes important.  It is the analysis at the beginning that will help determine the “consumer’s” need, and how best to address that need.  Piskurich (2006) states that one of the benefits to employing ID is that it helps to identify the best practices for content delivery, essentially identifying the best manner for the target audience to successfully acquire the intended knowledge.  

Additionally, listing course prerequisites is vital and should, almost always, be mandatory.  Piskurich (2006) further suggests that course prerequisites are important for, both, the instructors, as well as, the students.   With a well-developed set of expected prerequisite skills and knowledge, the instructor(s) have a fair understanding of their students’ ability, and what kind of material they will be able to utilize with their students.  At the same time, potential students have an understanding and fair expectation regarding what information will be covered in their course.  Students that are reviewing course prerequisites can make informed decisions whether or not a course is too basic, too advanced, or just right.

Factors for Success in Virtual Worlds

Andrea L. Foster (2008) reported that educators experienced in utilizing the 3D virtual world, Second Life (SL), for distance education have stated that “…communication among students actually gets livelier when they assume digital personae” (p. 12-13).  Foster also reports that one educator, that teaches a freshman English composition course via SL, suggested that educators getting started in SL should be open to the idea of allowing students to have some control over the course in order to maximize student engagement.  Other suggestions include eliciting feedback and suggestions from other educators and students.  From a personal standpoint, this author believes that VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is essential in order to keep the audience engaged.  Having experienced SL conferences where the main means of communication between the presenter(s) and the audience have been either text chat (only), VoIP,  or a combination of both, it is very easy to say that this author found it more engaging to utilize VoIP with the occasional text chat for a side conversation/question.  Additionally, the use of multimedia such as video and/or presentation slides definitely helped to create the opportunities for increased audience participation.

Application Becoming Reality

The Simulations and Virtual Reality course that this author is currently participating in has really expanded the thought process regarding how to approach the final capstone project, and which tools, skills, and objects will be needed in order to develop a successful product.  This author had already settled on creating a course within Moodle, an open-source Learning Management System (LMS), entitled, “Developing Immersive Virtual Learning Environments”.  However, participating within the 3D world of SL has taken the original concepts to a whole new level of possibilities.

For the final project of the Simulations and Virtual Reality course this author intends to create one of the lessons for his final capstone course.  Beginning with basic best practices, this author will develop a detailed syllabus that will contain course prerequisites, course requirements, and technical requirements for the final capstone course.  Within SL, this final project will have to make use of multi-media viewers, a magazine and brochure shelf in order to provide external links to various learning objects, and text and voice chat.  Additionally, this author plans to explore the benefits of possibly utilizing SLOODLE which is an open-source project that has integrated SL with Moodle, and may be found in SL at: SLOODLE TeleHub and Fountain: 128, 128, 22 (SLOODLE, Home section, para. 1).



Best practice. (n.d.). In’s online dictionary. Retrieved from

Foster, A. L. (2008). Professor Avatar. Education Digest, 73(5), 12-17. Retrieved from

Piskurich, G. M. (2006). Rapid instructional design: Learning ID fast and right. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

SLOODLE (n.d.). In’s open source project. Retrieved from

Virtual Immersion: The 3D Web

Originally Posted: March 11, 2011

Virtual Immersion: The 3D Web

While we may not be discussing the “final frontier”, we certainly are rapidly approaching the next frontier.  Kluge and Riley (2008) refer to 3-D virtual worlds as the next technological stepping stone that will redefine the internet as we know it today.  Web 3.0 could indeed become the 3-D virtual web filled with avatars (digital representations of ourselves), virtual businesses, homes, and learning environments.  Watch your step because the virtual rabbit hole is deep, and mostly unpaved.

ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine reported that virtual learning provides an abundant amount of flexibility and additional opportunities for different student populations to pursue their educational goals based on varying needs.  Some of the students served include:

  • at-risk students/dropouts
  • accomplished athletes
  • pregnant/homebound/incarcerated students (2011).  

In addition, utilizing and accounting for some of the considerations presented by Lee and Owens (2004) in their “Media Analysis Form”, there are several factors that support an educator’s decision to use a 3D virtual world such as Second Life.  These factors and considerations are displayed in Table 1.

Table 1

Summary of factors and considerations



Content requires interactivity (computer/internet).

Content involves computer software and practice.

Collaborative learning is desired.

There may be opportunities for group learning experiences including building relationships and sharing information.

Audience requires motivation.

Based on the target audience, there may be a stronger requirement for higher intrinsic motivation to increase likelihood of successful learning.

Audience requires convenience.

Time away from work is a challenge because of schedules and/or project requirements.

Audience has limited access to expertise.

Expertise is limited and must be leverage across the organization.

Keep travel expense low.

Travel requirements are a barrier due to budgets, distance, and business considerations.  Web-based delivery eliminates travel expenses.


Note. Adapted from “Media Analysis Form,” by W. W. Lee and D. L. Owens, 2004, Multimedia-Based Instructional Design. p. 355. Copyright 2004 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


On the surface, many of the pros and cons related to education in general, and in a real world setting, translate to the same benefits and challenges of using 3D virtual worlds, such as Second Life, for teaching.  Educators still have the ability to create interesting and intriguing lesson plans (or not), and students have the ability to be helpful to other students, or to be disruptive.  However, the simple idea of engaging students in a 3D virtual world helps to promote interest, at least initially.  Additionally, there are some controls that may be utilized by educators to help minimize disruptive behavior, such as access control lists.

One of the immediate benefits to utilizing 3D virtual worlds for education is “The Death of Distance” as discussed by Dr. Tony O’Driscoll in his list of seven sensibilities that differentiate virtual social worlds from other interactive media (2007).  By nature, the 3D web may be accessed by anyone with broadband access to the internet.  However, the technological requirements of broadband access, computers with more memory, better graphics, etc. may, itself, impose limitations on students that do not have ready access to the minimum technical requirements to engage in the 3D web.  

Personally, I had the opportunity to attend a “ribbon cutting ceremony” by the University of Hawaii staff members recently in Second Life.  There were attendees, not only from all over the United States, but literally from all over the world.  There was plenty of opportunity for professional networking which is another important aspect of the present and future role of 3D virtual worlds in education.  As may be expected, there was also some “unintentional” disruptive behavior when I accidentally advanced the speaker’s slides which eventually caused the speaker to have to take a few seconds to ask the attendees to refrain from such behavior.  This showed the need for educators to familiarize themselves with some of the internal security controls such as limiting which and how avatars may interact with “in-world” objects.

The rabbit hole is deep and mostly unpaved, but the 3D web is the next frontier.  As educators we must immerse ourselves in the future of virtual learning environments, and acclimate ourselves to the expectations and experiences of our future students.  




ASCD. (2011, February). Double Take. Educational Leadership, 68(5), 8-9.

Kluge, S., & Riley, R. (2008). Teaching in virtual worlds: Opportunities and challenges. Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology 5, 127-135. Retrieved from

Lee, W. W., & Owens, D. L. (2004). Multimedia-based instructional design. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

O’Driscoll, T., (2007, March 22). Virtual social worlds and the future of learning [Video file].  Retrieved from

Burning Images with Ken: The Effect of Motion on Stills

Originally Posted: February 24, 2011

Who is Ken Burns?

Many people utilize a video editing feature that is available in many Non-Linear Editors (NLEs), such as Apple’s iMovie, that is known as the Ken Burns Effect. Many people (including myself) never heard of, much less have seen some of the great documentaries by, Ken Burns.

Ken Burns has been an award-winning documentary filmmaker for over 30 years. He is the cofounder of Florentine Films, and has received more than 25 honorary degrees (WETA, 2010).

The Project

The embedded video below is a quick project that displays some of the effects that where made famous by Ken Burns utilizing still images.

Vodpod videos no longer available.



WETA. (2010). About Ken Burns. Retrieved from

Draft Green Screen Intro Video

Originally Posted: February 20, 2011

This is my first run at using chroma-key (green-screen) technology. It is part of a course I am taking & will eventually become an introduction to a web-based course that I will be developing for my Capstone Project.

I downloaded a stock background from .I used that to do a waist-up key of my intro with iMovie ’09.

I wanted to do more, such as walking around & full profile shots, but I ordered the wrong size green-screen (too small), and now I’m waiting on a bigger screen to arrive.

I also started playing with the Ultra Key option in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5 …It gives me a few more options than the iMovie ’09.

Depending on how that turns out, I may update this post, and embed that video as a comparison.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Draft Audio Intro

Originally Posted: February 13, 2011

Linked is the first draft of what will become the audio portion to a video introduction to my National University Capstone project for my Master of Science in Educational & Instructional Technology.

Although this first draft only needed to be 30 seconds in length, I extended it to about one minute in order to show the transition from my opening quote, which was adapted from a 1999 movie, to the actual  capstone course introduction.  The audio is found here.


FlipSnack: Convert PDFs into Stylish Page Flip Books

FlipSnack is an online flipping book software that allows you to convert PDF documents into Flash page flip digital publications. It’s the ideal solution for those who wish to embed a book, magazine, catalog, newspaper, portfolio or any other kind of document into a website or blog.

Once created, you can embed your flipping book collection, download them or share them on social networking websites such as Facebook.

P.S. With FlipSnack you can upload several documents at once, allowing you to embed not only one, but multiple page flip publications in the same Flash widget.

~ FlipSnack

(No registration required – You may use Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, or MySpace to login for FREE).


This is a pretty nice service.  As a test, I converted a Teaching Guide that I made for using Call of Duty: Black Ops with High School Seniors in an American or World History class.  This is the FlipSnack version of the original PDF.