Video Game April Fools Roundup

Any video game fan should check out this G4TV’s roundup of April Fools pranks from around the video game industry. For some reason, April Fools is always a big deal for video game makers and some of the tricks are elaborate albeit pretty unbelievable. This video was arguably the most well done prank that does a good job of making fun of  some of the inherent problems with XBox Kinnect and controlling a game while taking up a large physical play space.

A Look at Technology in Schools

A Look at Technology in Schools

When I was 13, my middle school decided to buy a set of Palm Pilots (remember those?) for the eighth grade class to share. We used these new-fangled devices to take exams in science class. I still remember my teacher Mr. Cousino standing in front of our class, telling us that PDAs were the future of test-taking in schools.

Obviously, he was wrong. Within the next couple of years, it became more and more apparent that cell phones would replace the short-lived hype over PDAs, meaning that my middle school wasted money on an obsolete product. And I have yet to take an exam not on paper since. My school took a gamble on getting what was innovative technology at the time but didn’t get the payoff they had intended. We talked in class about the pros and cons of using technology to aid learning; my school’s experience would be an example of a con. Technology changes and improves so fast that every investment a school makes is a risk.

The Present

Right now, however, laptops seem like a safe bet. Both my middle school and high school had them, and it looks like now even elementary schools are using them. I volunteer at Burns Park Elementary for one of my other classes, and I see Macbooks in every classroom. All the teachers have Apple laptops and the students write essays, play games, and do other activities on the classroom laptops.

Frankly, I’m surprised they would shell out money for such expensive products—and on five to ten-year olds! My school district got Dells. But then again, this is Ann Arbor. What’s more disturbing, however, is the school’s overreliance on technology. A kindergarten teacher I work with got in trouble with administration for taking attendance on paper instead of going through the computer system. More emphasis is put on teaching students to type than teaching them how to spell. The presence of spell check on computers further inhibits students’ spelling skills, such that when they do activities off the computer, they have no idea how to even sound words out. Learning to type is important, but so is having basic knowledge and skills, spelling being one of them. We can’t have young students learn that it’s ok for computers to do the thinking for them. I also learned how to type in elementary school, but I learned to spell too.

The “Future”

The last two examples talked about how technology is just an aspect of schools. But what if the whole school was technology-based? In Philadelphia, there is a place called Microsoft’s School of the Future, where there are no textbooks and everything is paperless. Each student is issued a laptop to take notes and exams on, and the physical school itself is a brand new technologically advanced building. The principal, teachers, students, and parents all communicate and collaborate via the IT infrastructure in place, and all assessments and evaluations are done online. Although the school boasted a 100% graduation rate in 2010, with all seniors going on to higher education, it has also been rife with controversy and criticism, among them poor wifi connections, students’ unfamiliarity with the technology, and inexperienced educators. More criticisms can be read here and here.

Schools seem to be becoming increasingly open to using technology to improve education, although there appear to be problems on both the technology side and educators’ use of it. But even with all the problems, technology is here to stay in our schools.

Teaching to the test and one teachers stand against it

Standardized testing, the bane of children’s existence. Those weeks spent preparing for the test with practice tests and practice essays, those mind-numbing hours spent taking the test, filling in those little bubbles, freaking out if A hadn’t been used in a while, cranking out a five paragraph essay about some random topic. Kids hate them and teachers don’t want to take time out of their class to teach to the test just to meet some arbitrary standard.

One teacher got finally snapped and wrote this letter to her 8th graders, In that letter one of the most striking parts I found was “All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit…In your constructed response—no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is—if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.” I guess that explains why people practice the ACT and spend hours taking practice tests, so they can learn what the test wants them to be able to reproduce. I can see why they are forced to do this. My AP12 English teacher told us she graded for the AP test one year and said they got at most 90 seconds for each essay. 40 minutes to write each essay, carefully selecting the words to incorporate all those literary techniques you had learned over the year, time spent trying to nail that awesome alliteration and find the perfect metaphor to describe Frankenstein’s monster. All that effort comes down to one teacher sitting in a massive auditorium glancing at the paper for 90 seconds to decide if you passed that test or not, the difference between passing out of a college requirement and maybe graduation early or having to take intro English rests on those 90 seconds. So by God you better have a sweet intro paragraph or else you have no hope. Really seems like more effort should go into each essay but I guess when you have to grade thousands of essays time is of the essence. Doesn’t matter that those 90 seconds can affect peoples lives. My cousin, Hannah, applied to some college over in England last spring because she wanted to be a write. To get into that college she had to get a 5 on her AP literature exam and fortunately for her, she got it. But if those 90 seconds hadn’t been enough time to really see what she had written, her dreams would be crushed and she would have lost this once in a lifetime opportunity for her to study in England. Fortunately, this child wasn’t left behind but why should these types of exams be used to determine fates of children, schools or whole districts.

We need to find a new way to measure students and their progress through school. Standardized test shoehorn students into one path and hope they make it all the way through the merry adventure we call public education. Should they stray from  this school-house red brick path into computer science or god forbid be interested in art or music, nobody will know that they have this interest, this drive for something else. All they will see is the reading, english, math and “science”, or graph-reading, scores from the ACT. The senators dividing up the budgets won’t see the kids portfolios, github accounts, or listen to their concerts. They will only see the math scores are up here so what they are doing over here must be working. But these other skills can’t be accurately measured by a standard tests because you can’t measure a jazz musicians skill on a scantron exam. Until we find some way to include these other interests and skills in our  education system as part of the core curriculum or allow students more choice in what they learn, we will be stuck with these outdated tests and every year kids will suffer through the meap and then be sorted and shipped like meat based on those numbers.

Stanford’s experiment

As most of us have heard Stanford is providing access to a multitude of free classes online. Last semester they started this program off with a course in artificial intelligence and machine learning, some advanced concepts in computer science. This semester they are continuing with the program after the huge interest they got last semester. I decided to try them out and signed up for classes on the design and analysis of algorithms (similar to EECS281 at UM) and a course in game theory. So far I have had a great experience with both these classes. They allow you to go at your own pace by providing lectures in smaller chunks usually no longer than 30 min with most sections around 15min, so you can watch them as you feel like it and they aren’t too long so they are really able to keep your attention. They have “assignments”, “quizzes”, “projects”, and “labs” for you to try to test your understanding of the material. Everything is of course optional, since its a free class, it is really just a way to branch out an explore new subject areas. For me, I was always interested in taking a game theory class since it seemed interesting but it never quite fit in my schedule, so this provides me an easy way to explore that subject at my own pace and even earn an “electronic certificate of completion” which could possibly be integrated with the Mozilla badge initiative at some point in the future. It is also a way for me to review some stuff I had learned earlier in school through the algorithms class. I can review topics that I am a little fuzzy on and also gives me a chance to see how the “stanford” experience matches up with what I have learned here.

It really allows some self-directed learning as you can choose what courses to take and how much you want to be engaged in them. The course’s staff encourage you to go and find groups online either through google+, facebook, work or school to get together and study or go through the material and assignments. When I interviewed with some companies last semester I would usually ask about how I could grow at those companies and quite a few mentioned that they had groups taking these classes and would meet to work on them, though they were tech companies so it was a biased sample. These classes have taken off much faster than expected and been written about in numerous sources such as But why is this idea more talked about than say or MIT’s open course ware

Building off the idea of MIT’s open course ware, stanford really takes it a step further by creating that class atmoshpere. Instead of just giving old homeworks and solutions to them, it provides interactive quizzes to take for the “course”. Weekly lectures are released and it really encourages the learner to keep coming back to view the new content and helps to keep them more engaged than other sites. while the traditional school structure may seem flawed, its system of deadlines and class times really helps bringing people back to learn more.

Online dating… better in WoW

I think this goes along pretty well with the concept that gamers can be quite social… and willing to get it on!

“According to the study, a whopping 75% of Warcraft players are dating someone else playing the game, and of those, another 75% actually traveled over 100 miles to meet their current partner. Wonder if they used a mount?”

I think this has a lot to do with motivation… but less so in the learning sense! Cheers guys.

The Violence Skits

I really enjoyed how the class participated in the violence skits. Everyone was very creative and I felt that there was competition between every group. I really liked how one of the groups had everyone acting and playing a part so no one was just standing around doing nothing. I loved my group and how we had to incorporate Professor Fisherman as  the speaker. It was hilarious how one of my group members quoted and said similar things that he would really say during class. I hope we could do another skit again or next year they continue to get better.

-Aquashia Anderson

Go team Operation Unthinkable

Cracking Down On Piracy

I just read this interesting article on the future of the gaming industry. Its all about how companies like Microsoft and Sony are coming out with new consoles that don’t let you buy games but rather “rent them”. They are hoping to combat the used gaming industry by requiring people to only buy new games online. Some of this has already been seen in a few games like the new Call of Duty and Batman games, which give you a code along with the new version of the game. For example, this code for the new batman game unlocks the entire “catwoman” story line and in Call of Duty it unlocks a quarter of the maps. Gamers who choose to buy a used version of the game get screwed because this code only works once. The companies say these efforts are used to try and combat the use of pirated versions of the games.

However, in the next coming years Microsoft and Sony will one-up these efforts by coming out with a counsel that requires gamers to purchase copies online without any sort of disc. The new xbox 720 by Microsoft is reportedly requiring users to have a constant Internet connection going to the counsel to prevent piracy. The reason being, any data or information being uploaded on the counsel will have to be screened by Microsoft to check for validity. If it doesn’t pass the test, it doesn’t get uploaded.

Although I agree that piracy has gotten out of hand I believe these measures are too extreme. Firstly, by completely changing their counsel, games from previous counsels will no longer work. This means that gamers will have to completely re-buy every game, which as game prices increase could mean dropping $100 dollars on a game in the near future. Furthermore, requiring users to have an active Internet connection means that not everyone gets to use these counsels anymore. Finally, the biggest problem I see with these security measures is that if a human created them a human can find a way around them. As we have seen time and time again as the technology gets better so does the piracy. There will always be ways gamers get around these protections and by limiting the market to only those who have an active Internet connection the companies are only hurting themselves. I mean if Anonymous was able to completely crash Sony’s online system for months I think hackers will easily find a way around these restrictions. As for me, I think I am just going to rock out my xbox 360 until they finally create the matrix.

Check out this article I wrote…

…on a game called The Path, for a completely different but more official blog, The Analytical Couch Potato. Give ’em a like on facebook while you’re at it, if you enjoy the articles.

The Many Faces of Video Games

I’m not going to lie, I love reading articles that contradict themselves.
There was an article in “The Australian” newspaper that began stating that video games can improve cognitive function, creativity…etc etc (you know the spiel by now).
Then immediately afterwards it cites that “video games can increase violent tendencies in adult males after one week” and that ” Video game play has been linked to obesity”.
First of all: REALLY?! Definitely disappointed in the Australian News industry– but anything to get a story, right?
Obviously with certain samples of participants, a study will find a link between video games and obesity– but then we are talking about selection bias resulting in a correlation– not causation. And by now we all now that the link between video games and violence is tenuous at best.

So the question I put forth is this: Why do newspapers do this?
The main answer I can conjure up is because they want to appeal to the public– their readers. Much of society is still subscribed to the moral panic of video games, shunning any evidence to the contrary in favor of avoiding a disturbance in they way the conceive of video games and their place in the world.
I don’t necessarily think that video games alone will change the world for the better, but I do think they can be useful in both a leisurely and an educational context. If trying it out won’t kill us, then why not give video games a fighting chance?
Just Saying….


Video Game April Fools and Economic Boom

In light of Barry’s oh-so-funny April Fool’s joke – that I did not realize was a joke until today out of my own laziness and ignorance of the attached “proof” in his email – here were some of the best video game company pranks from yesterday.  Most spoof some actual video games that we have encountered in the class, and take a laughable twist:

In less jovial news, but still positive, the video game also appears to be booming in the U.S despite economic downturn.  Industry research shows that in the 5 years to 2012, that sales have risen due to an increased spending by companies in advertising and hype for new game releases.  Investment in this has allowed for the video game industry to stay above water in the midst of national economic troubles, and looks like it will even steadily rise over the next few years.  It seems as though this industry might be something (for us as college students and soon to be graduates on the hunt for a job) to keep an eye on and something to get involved with.

Temple Run

How many of my fellow classmates have played this game…This game is simply available for iphone, ipod, and ipad users at the moment. Im pretty sure there is an app for android users also or at least there is one being developed. This game is very addicting to me. This game consist of numerous amount of characters you can use. The more coins and points you get, the better the person you can get. You can also get coin magnets, boost, mega coin, invisibility etc. These things can all be earned by coins whixh will increase your chances and objective to run. One important note to know, is that there is no finish line, so this game is very intense and competitive and can be very addicting….i think we all should check it out…here is more info about it at this link

US Government turns to gamers?

So many of you might have encountered DARPA ( Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) in a dozen or so video games– they always seem to be some pseudo faceless yet certainly evil organization that operates with very few rules. Needless to say, I found it very amusing to read this article about how DARPA is hiring the best game designers and even crowdsourcing gamers to help them with new projects.
Combine this with Jane McGonigal’s assertion in her book “Reality is Broken” (Seriously a great read) that the graduates of Quest to Learn will probably be among the most creative minds of their time– and basically you’ve got a reason to play video games: They foster creative thinking and might actually help you find a job.

I would love for this to be a reality, but I’ll definitely watch to see how it plays out before I put my grad school plans in the trash and play x-box full time