Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Learning Solutions 2013 - Day One

I don't seem to have wi-fi in my hotel room, so I'm doing this (and likely all) blog updates from the exciting hotel lobby. Yeah! Oh wait, not... not so yeah.

Thankfully, other than the wi-fi situation, the conference has been great so far. Here are some of my reflections about the day:

Session: Morning Buzz: Getting Creative
Speaker: Connie Malamed

Obviously I didn't live tweet this one. I hadn't ever attended one of the more casual Morning Buzz sessions that happen at the eLearning Guild conferences so I just sort of wanted to check it out and see what it was before committing to broadcasting it.

This session turned out to be an easygoing chat where the group just talked about what creativity is, tools you can use to boost creativity, and creative projects we were proud of making. There was a small group of people at the session who had both learning AND fine art experience (myself included), so for me it was particularly interesting to hear suggestions from them on how to keep creativity fired up.

Some of the best suggestions from this session were the ones near and dear to anyone who's ever worked in the arts hearts: keep experimenting, sketch and sketch and sketch, and the beginning of any creative process is throwing a bunch of ideas out there and then scrapping everything but the best of the best. Additional funny-yet-useful suggestion: if you work with/for people who are creativity-adverse, find ways to "cloak your creativity in mediocrity" (if I ever form a punk band, that is what I'll call it).

Session: KEYNOTE: Exploring the Role of Technology in Peak Performance
Speaker: Robert Ballard

The opening keynote was a speaker I remember studying in elementary school: Robert Ballard - ocean explorer. I'll be honest, the session wasn't as connected to the conference themes as I would have liked, but it was deeply enjoyable nonetheless.

Ballard talked about his career, in particular the way his out-of-the-box way of looking at solving problems helped to make amazing discoveries about our oceans (and the shipwrecks in them). The great thing was, this wasn't him doing the whole humblebrag thing. He was legitimately excited and happy that his unusual approaches to oceanography had helped science on a whole. He thought it was important to share examples of when looking at a problem differently helped, not so much that it was HIS non-standard ideas that made the advancements. Always a classy move.

There are two main things that I got out of this session. First, that it's vital that we have people in STEM fields act as advocates for making science approachable. People like Ballard (and his astrophysics counterpart Neil deGrasse Tyson) do wonders for making science something that anyone can wrap their heads around. In particular, Ballard's work with schools around the world is making science just plain fun for kids. Second, it's important to love what you do. Ballard talked about how lousy the conditions were in early exploratory subs. You HAD to love it or else it would drive you batty. Plus, he's 71 years old and still talking about what he does with passion and excitement. That's most assuredly something to want to emulate.

Session: Ideas You Can Play With
Speaker: Stephen Anderson

Next up was a session on, as Anderson put it, how new ideas come from "the intersection of fields, disciplines, or cultures." The session was predominantly examples of how tech is evolving in all sorts of exciting ways and felt like more inspiration than advice on application (not a complaint in this particular case).

While I'd be writing all night if I tried to sum up every example he used, I would like to point out my favourite: interaction design. He spent a not insignificant chunk of the session showing examples of how playful interaction design helps people better visualize and explore their options, as well as bump into new options they never would have considered (or even expected) otherwise. There's something to be said for finding a way to make people want to play with information. It gives people more say in their choices, but without having to slog through tons of poorly collected and curated info. Anytime you can simplify things without dumbing it down is valuable for a learner.

There are clearly a lot of tech innovations evolving every minute, but not every one of them is the best for you just because it's new. That's why I'm glad Anderson remembered to mention that this shouldn't just be tech for tech's sake. Hooray for acknowledging that "new" doesn't always mean "improved for every situation."

Session: Tips & Tricks for Building Great Whiteboard Videos on a Budget  Speaker: Cory Casella

Practical application? A session after my own heart. Much like the title suggests, Casella went through the steps involved in creating whiteboard videos (like the ones RSA Animate does) on the cheap, start to finish. Casella is planning on making his instruction manual-like deck (and I mean this in the best way possible) available online, so I'll link to it later rather than try and recreate it here. Before it goes up, though, I can say that at the end of the presentation I was fully reassured that I could replicate his process for under $650 in supplies/equipment. Can't complain there!

Session: Mobile Delivery of Educational Materials to NFL Players - Lessons Learned    Speaker: Alexander Grosholz

I hate writing negative reviews, but this wasn't my favourite session. Grosholz is a deeply likeable speaker, but I think I was hoping for more from his content.

The session was a case study in how he had used two different delivery methods to move the Miami Dolphins from printed to digital playbooks. They started using a bring your own device (BYOD) set up, but found that supporting content on multiple devices (and operating systems) was tricky, people on Android and BlackBerry platforms weren't actually using the digital playbook (I'd love to figure out more about why this was the case in this situation), and, worst of all, people were still relying heavily on printed materials.

A second launch using Corporate Owned, Personally Enabled (COPE) iPads worked substantially better. Everyone was on the same device, so it was (relatively speaking) easier to set the system up and support it. Since the devices were corporately owned, that meant that they had more control over them, allowing for extreme actions such as a remote device hard drive wipe in case a tablet was lost (important for the security of a team playbook) with little drama. Because the iPads were company property, they also were able to institute stiff fines if a device was misplaced, adding again to security. However, because the devices were in the hands of Dolphins employees, they could still be customized and used mostly as they pleased, adding to personal enjoyment of the device.

So, interesting, but I didn't love the session. I honestly was hoping for more information about how the digital playbook functioned, the thought process of how it was created, and how their security measures worked specifically, but instead got a case study of why they went with COPE instead of BYOD. So, not what I was expecting. Plus, the speaker's slide deck was just bullet after bullet instead of screen shots or other visual media. The deck was the polar opposite of engaging, and I think the speaker would have been better to have no deck than THIS deck.

So, not a train wreck by any means, but not my favourite.

Session: KEYNOTE: Lessons Games Teach Us About Enhanced Performance Speaker: Aaron Dignan

Last, but not at all least, was my favourite presentation of the day (and likely to be my favourite of the conference). Dignan combined all the best examples of a good speaker. He took a topic he was an expert at and made it completely accessible to newbies (without dumbing it down too much for other experts), he incorporated easy to understand examples to back up his points, his speech was simple yet precise, the material was well organized, and his slide deck was stunning (seriously, go look at the photos of it I tweeted. It's awesome AND contributes to his content).

Admittedly, I liked the session a great deal because Dignan talked about something I care a lot about: games. In this case, he talked about games from the perspective of why they're interesting and what we can learn from them as learning designers. As he put it "play is nature's learning engine" and we see all sorts of creatures, human and otherwise, who use play as a way to understand the world (and the boundaries of that world) around them. So why should we suddenly stop using this method of learning when we become adults?

For optimum game/learning enjoyment (and hitting that delightful flow state that makes the hours fly by when you're grinding away at leveling up in a game), you need to find the delicate balance of challenge and skill. Too easy makes people bored. Too hard makes people frustrated. Just right and people feel challenged but not overwhelmed. This works just as well in learning as it does in traditional games.

Games also give us a safe arena to take risks. You can make mistakes with minimal long term ramifications. In real life, however, we tend to play it safe as most IRL mistakes have much more severe IRL consequences. This means we can become too unwilling to take the valuable risks that are vital to innovation and experimentation. Learning should take the game approach to mistakes: give people a place to make mistakes, get feedback, and try again without severe punishments (a fantastic case, might I add, for high quality simulations). In this same vein, games also give us an opportunity to practice... and practice... and practice again! It's hard to find a more effective path to mastery than simply practice.

Dignan mentioned a number of examples of games weaving themselves into other aspects of life: Target's gamified cashier feedback system, Stack Overload, Open Badges, Microsoft's imbedded Office training game, just to name a few, are all interesting examples of just some of the ways game elements have entered other arenas. How we continue to do this, in particular as educators, remains to be seen.

So this is all great stuff, sure, but I think the reason I liked it so much is that Dignan did a superb job of explaining what exactly games are and why they appeal to the human brain. Too many people get involved with gamification and serious games without wrapping their heads around what exactly makes a game a game in the first place. That's why, I suspect, we see so many instances of lame "slap badges on it and call it a day" gamification these days. In helping the audience to actually "get" games, I suspect Dignan did a lot to help influence better game-inspired learning from the audience.

And so...

So that's my impressions of the first day of Learning Solutions. I had intended to cap off the night with the official conference "game crawl", but I never ended up figuring out where exactly the "hotel bar" was (thought I found it... must have been a different bar), and so I'm a sad panda who won't get to play Ticket to Ride with anyone tonight. Don't feel TOO bad for me: I'm just going to play the iPhone version in my hotel room instead.

Tomorrow has a number of great events, but what's top of mind for me is my first conference presentation (Graphic Design Tips for Non-Designers... I'd love to see you there at 10:45am!). I remain both giddy AND nervous, so the only logical thing to do is rehearse it yet again and then get a good night's sleep.

See you tomorrow con-goers (on-site and remote alike).

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the vicarious visit -- please keep posting esp. the graphic design tips ;)