On the Cutting Edge - Professional Development for Geoscience Faculty
New Worlds for Geoscience Teaching: Using Online Games and Environments
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Author Profile

Alan Levine


Alan Likes Rocks

Vice President of Community & CTO for the New Media Consortium
NMC web site CogDogBlog My current interests/skills include web design, web programming, blogs, digital photography, digital video, storytelling, tagging/folksonomy, virtual worlds. BS Geology 1986 University of Delaware, MS Geology 1989 Arizona State University

Geoscience or Game Related Projects

Gravity Simulation
Gravity Anomaly Simulator
This was probably the first geoscience application I coded, written in 1987u sing MacFORTRAN as a grad student at ASU. The interface is completely text driven, and was designed to allow users to interactively create different subsurface bodies in order to match a given gravity anomaly pattern.

Also while at ASU, I created some early data visualizations using some of the first color programs on the Mac (from NCSA) to generate graphs based on volcano models run on a Cray at Los Alamos.

Volcanic Tableland Landsat My masters thesis at ASU, Ash Flow Zones of the Bishop Tuff: Detailed Mapping with Landsat Thematic Mapper may have been the first these mentioned in a Mary Worth cartoon ;-).

I did some very crude image processing on the false color data, correlated with spectra collected from field samples, and mapped portions of the Bishop Tuff that the satellite imagery differentiated units of various welding that could not be seen easily in air photos or in the field.

Writing HTML Banner Writing HTML Example
Writing HTML Tutorial was created by me first in 1994 at the Maricopa Community Colleges as a workshop and then a stand-along tutorial to help people learn how to create their own web pages.

It has been used by thousands of people all around the world. With copies we gave away, there are almost 2000 Google matches on WritingHTML

For the practice examples, people gradually build up content of a simple lesson on Volancoes, and if the complete all 28 lessons they will have a complex website with images, audio, video, forms, shockwave and JavaScript. Although not updated since 2000, people still thank me for the "Volcano thing", and the lessons were eventually translated into Icelandic, Spanish, and Korean.

Shall We Learn with a Game banner In 1995, I set up a faculty software review of what was then cutting edge computer games, Shall We Teach with a Game?. This included SimEarth and SimLife, and the faculty were asked to develop ideas how they might use game software. This was my first exposure to Myst, a game which set new grounds for a puzzle solving game in a visual interface, and influenced my later projects.

NRU image

Negative Reinforcement University was a game created for Psychology, but it likely the most complex game I created. It features models built in Strata3D and was coded in Macromedia Director, first for CD ROM, and then converted to a Shockwave version to play via the web.

It was actually part of a larger project to explore the process of having faculty and students work as teams to create a multimedia project. The students suggested using a game interface without the clutter of menus and buttons, and we designed a place with the navigation metaphors taken directly from Myst.

Ideal Gas Law Game During a 6 month sabbatical from Maricopa I worked 2 months in Flagstaff at Northern Arizona University creating two multi-user game-like applications using Marcomedia Director and the Shockwave multi-user server.

The Ideal Gas Law game: users tried to match a target pressure by manipulating the other variables in the Ideal gas Law to be the first team to reach the pressure. Team members could change any variable and see the direct effects.

A second program was written for Balancing Chemical equations.

Flickr Volcano Diagram

The photo sharing site flickr has a very under-rated, under-used tool- the "notes" feature that allows you to annotate any part of any an image with a pop-up note, which can also link to other web pages. I create this [link http://flickr.com/photos/cogdog/817669/ example of one based on the Volcano types. See an explanation of how to create one.

What do you hope to learn from the workshop experience?
I am interested in hearing the kinds of projects others are doing, or hearing of their ideas... I get a lot of projects out of listening to the needs, dreams, crazy ideas of faculty.

What specific aspects of on-line games and environments in geoscience education are you interested in discussing with other workshop participants?
Uses of web 2.0 tools; virtual worlds; potential for alternate reality games, complex/serious games, visualization.




Alan Levine --Discussion  

Hi Alan, one of the things that strikes me in reading through your varied game-building experiences is how much time/cost it takes to build a good game. Clearly building a game for ones students from scratch is out of the question for most faculty. At the same time faculty have a strong bent toward adjusting their materials to suit their local environment/adversion to just adapting someone else's stuff wholesale.

That points to the need for gaming environments that can be easily customized by individual faculty. Second Life's focus on 'creating stuff and spaces' certainly speaks to this. But there are lots of other games that are more canned.

Have folks seen/experience/expressed faculty resistance/reticence about adopting games because they can't be modified to exactly fit the local curriculum.

Is this an issue?

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I think Alan shows that there is a wide variety of potentially online games to be had and helps us distinguish some vocabulary for our game discussion:

simulation game, simulator, serious game, massively multiplayer game, puzzles, avatar...

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I really like the diversity of Alan's projects. I can learn a lot from his examples.

How do you deal with the issue of learning something vs doing work for "a grade" ? I encourage group learning, but i always worry about how to award credit. Maybe those should not be a worry ? Sam

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Alan- you've built a lot of these! What can you say about the essential ingredients needed to make an educational game that works?

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Following up on Sean's comment,

In academia one of the successful models I've seen for development of software is where a faculty member and a staff member (usually on soft money, i.e. grants) with computer abilities collaborate to develop educational software. The faculty member has good (grandiose?) ideas but little time; the staff member often has educational yearnings not satisfied by the gruntwork of grantwork and is happy to do this sort of thing 'on the side.' Now that NSF actually asks for "broader impacts" in proposals, this sort of on-the-side work needn't be as illicit and covert as it once was.

For those not lucky enough to have grant money and staff, the holy grail of easily adaptable software that would allow faculty to create software easily would be great.

When I was a post-doc at Columbia a decade ago, I worked with a local college professor (Sam Borenstein) who used the software Neuron from Asymetrix Corporation to do pretty sophisticated simulations in a short amount of time. I've lost touch with Sam and his links don't work anymore, but I thought I'd see if anyone else had heard of this software.

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