-A simple hex map

-A bag of small rocks

-Two dozen tiny plastic dinosaurs

-Two 20-sided dice

-Nine six-sided dice

-100 poker chips

Deme‘s trial form is just about ready to emerge—marsupial-like—to finish its gestation outside the warm pouch of my imagination. Since its dramatic overhaul last year, the core concept has been consistent: a hex-grid tactical strategy game based on species interactions instead of the more traditional trappings of medieval fantasy and/or giant robot warfare.

The items listed above are the physical components for the game. Why tiny plastic dinosaurs? Because dinosaurs were the tiny plastic things Fred Meyer had on sale. At this early phase, it would be great to have a range of custom figurines to give the game any aesthetic properties I want, but ain’t nobody got time for that.*

This is prototyping, and if dinosaurs I have, dinosaurs I will use. The game, mind you, is not necessarily about dinosaurs. As a game, it is not necessarily about anything. I will tell people that a roll of the dice is a charge by a predator and a poker chip of a certain color is energy derived from food or an abstract representation of health. The dice roll could just as easily be a cavalry charge and the poker chips rubies, maps or small dogs. The elements that are most arbitrary are, in this case, perhaps the most important.

I’ll give you a personal example. When World War II first-person shooter games first became “a thing” with franchises like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor, I was a little put off. Making a game out of a real and recent conflict that caused so much lasting destruction and pain seemed crass… until I played a few titles. In most cases, the subject matter was handled with a level of respect and honesty I hadn’t expected, and much of that honesty was the recognition that this game is not like what happened, and no game ever could be. A game need not be instructive or technically realistic to spark interest and facilitate learning.

In basic mechanical terms, a historical shooter is very similar to a gonzo sci-fi shooter like Doom. The difference is in presentation—what we’ve decided the game is about. Doom, while challenging and entertaining, never left me thinking about anything of great human significance afterward. The Call of Duty franchise left me thinking of the reality behind its narrative.

The games were not meant to recreate the experience of war, but to let us talk about it. The cliché health packs and other FPS conventions, rather than appearing cheap and “unrealistic,” served as reminders that this was play—a safe, interactive diorama of something significant and terrible worth remembering. I found myself researching the Battle of Stalingrad and the human consequences of war for weeks after playing. I’d call that a free-choice learning outcome, and from a big-budget “recreational” game at that.


*Speaking naturally in front of a camera, especially following a stressful situation, takes a lot of courage. I think the funny thing about this video is not how Sweet Brown talks—though it’s often presented that way—but the fact that she nonchalantly lays bare and discards our unspoken expectations about how one speaks to a news crew, just by acting like a regular person. I have a huge amount of respect for that.

            When I begin to think about spatial thinking, I find it helpful to review what the scientific community has to say.  In my search, I found what the National Research Council, 2006 (NRC) report had to say extremely interesting.  They have defined thinking spatially as a separate form of intelligence based on three individual components: concepts of space, tools of representation, and process of reasoning.  Interesting… In addition, I referred to Gardner (1983); though heavily criticized for lack of empirical evidence at the onset of his theory, he included the ability to think spatially as one of his measures of a person’s intelligence.   The NRC report also claims the ability to think spatially is integral to everyday life, since everything exists in some aspect of a spatial relationship.  This statement struck me especially today in our theory meeting this morning as we were trying to define driving.  Some of the things we were considering about driving included simulator driving abilities, test taking, emotions, conditions, transferability and motor skills.  During this conversation no one mentioned spatial thinking specifically.  So if spatial thinking is so much a part of everyday life, then why do we not explicitly talk in terms of spatial thinking?  Or do we? What do you think?  How does spatial thinking effect your daily life?  Do you agree or disagree with the NRC?  Do you agree with Gardner?

What is your definition of consciousness?  How was your consciousness formed?  Have you ever stopped and thought about this before?  What are your thoughts?  Today in Dr. Rowe’s theory meeting we had much conversation about consciousness in relation to Vygotsky and the sociocultural theory of learning.

Here is a quote from Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind by James V. Wertsch:

On the basis of this Marxian axiom Vygotsky argues that ‘the socialdimension of consciousness id primary in time and in fact.  The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary’ (1979, p.30)” 1985, p. 58

In our meeting today the question was proposed that does this mean that for Vygotsky that there is no consciousness without the social aspect of society?  The interactions between people and the formed realization of what these actions mean?  What about the individualism of the person?  What about the biological make-up of individuals?  Do these factors play a role in the Vygotsky view of consciousness?  Do they play a role in your view of consciousness?

The example one can think of when trying to wrap your brain around these questions is the symbol of language.  One does not just know language, but one typically has the needed “biological functions” to produce the mechanics of sound.  Language, and some argue even speech is a social behavior.

It became clear in our conversation that this view seems to have some deficits, mainly the lack of attention to the individual, the development of the individual as they grow and “learn” before the age of five and the role of the of form instruction given (school learning is very different then at home or social learning for example).  As thoughts were brought forth, it seemed that we considered the role of the individual married with the social interaction begins that formation of consciousness.  As the individual grows and develops the skills they acquire from the social group they are in as well as their own physical progression increases the amount of signs and tools for that individual.  When one is able to deliberately choose what tool to use, knows how to use the tool, why they want to use the tool and what outcome they are expecting from the tool use, consciousness is forming.  One statement that even takes this further by Dr. Rowe is that once an individual learns to use a tool, it potentially changes the way that individual will do all future things.

So what are your thoughts?

A nice article on some of our current efforts came out today in Oregon Sea Grant’s publication, Confluence. You can read the story on-line at http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/confluence/1-3/free-choice-learning.

One of the hardest things to try to describe to Nathan Gilles who wrote the article (and to the folks who reviewed the draft) is the idea that in order for the lab to be useful to the widest variety of learning sciences researchers, the cyber-technologies on which the museum lab are based have to be useful to researchers coming from a wide range of theoretical traditions. In the original interview, I used the term “theory agnostic” in trying to talk about the data collection tools and the behind-the-scenes database. The idea is that the tools stand alone independent of any given learning theory or framework.

Of course, for anyone who has spent time thinking about it, this is a highly problematic idea. Across the social sciences we recognize that our decisions about what data to collect, how to represent it, and even how we go about collecting it are intimately interwoven with our theoretical claims and commitments. In the same way that our language and symbol systems shape our thinking by streamlining our perceptions of the world (see John Lucy’s work at the University of Chicago for the most cogent explanations of these relationships), our theories about learning, about development, about human interaction and identity shape our research questions, our tools for data collection and the kinds of things we even count as data.

Recognizing this, we struggled early on to develop a way to automate data collection that would serve the needs of multiple researchers coming from multiple frameworks and with interests that might or might not align with our own. For example, we needed to develop a data collection and storage framework that would allow a researcher like John Falk to explore visitor motivation and identity as features of individuals while at the same time allowing a researcher like Sigrid Norris to document visitor motivation and identity as emergent properties of mediated discourse: two very different notions of identity and of best ways to collect data about it being served by one lab and database.

The framework we settled on for conceiving of what kind of data we need to collect for all these researchers from different backgrounds is focused on human action (spoken and non-spoken) and shaped by a mediated action approach to understanding human action. Mediated action as an approach basically foregrounds agents acting in the world through the mediation of cognitive and communicative tools. Furthermore, it recognizes that such mediated action always occurs in concrete contexts. While it is true that mediated action approaches are most often associated with sociocultural theories of learning and Cultural Historical Activity Theory in particular, a mediated action approach itself does not make strong theoretical claims about learning. A mediated action framework means we are constantly striving to collect data on individual agents using physical, communicative, and cognitive tools in concrete contexts often with other agents. In storing and parsing data, we strive to maintain the unity of agent, tools, and context. To what extent this strategy turns out to be theory agnostic or learning theory neutral remains to be seen.

What did Vygotsky mean when he was referring to mind?  During our weekly theory meeting we as graduate students spent time reflecting on this today. We are currently reading Wertsch, Vygotsky and the Social Formation of Mind and came across two sections that took up the bulk of our conversations.

First we reflected on the choice of the word “mind” in the title.  What does this mean?  Is this a connection to the English translation of Vygotsky’s work Mind and Society trying to link the two books?  Is it a reference to the higher mental functions of brain and thought processes together?  Is it the conscience part of the individual?  Is it the part of the developmental process Vygotsky was referring to that was social and not biological?  We had much conversation on these questions.  What are your thoughts on these questions?  Our group tabled the topic for a future week. 

The second major discussion point was about mediation.  Can one mediate a tool? Or is a tool there to help with mediation?  What is the difference in these questions?  Is there a difference?  After various examples, there seemed to be some agreement on the idea of three stages of tool use.  These stages would progress as the individual develops high mental functions or thought processes.  First would be the use of the tools and gaining a general understanding of the task. Next would be the use of the tools to further that knowledge base. And finally there would be the mediated use of the tools with new tools for new formation of knowledge.  Laura gave a great example of these steps with learning about tides.  What are your thoughts?

… is what we’ll be doing starting this fall as a group of advisees of Dr. Rowe. As a couple of us near defense time (we hope), it seemed a good time to start a regular discussion of the theories and frameworks most pertinent to what we all do. There are a lot of them; as much as we share interest in science education, we have a lot of different ideas about how to do it for the array of audiences and venues we’re concerned with as well. So expect more along those lines coming up in the blog.

For now, here’s a video of Dr. Rowe introducing his own framework, which of course informs the entire lab agenda: