Goals for the Course
C&I 600: Methods of Instruction w/ Technology
Dr. Michael Thomas
Spencer Striker

Goals for C&I 600 – Methods of Instruction With Technology


General Goal

I’m terribly excited about this course. I entered the PhD program at UW-Madison in Educational Communications & Technology in order to study on the deepest level the theory and practice of designing cutting edge 21st Century Learning Environments.

ELPA Core - Prereqs

In the Fall and Spring of 2009 - 2010, I satisfied my 12 credits worth of ‘deficiencies’ in the formal study of Education, by taking four courses in the Department of Educational Leadership & Policy Analysis, including an excellent class, ‘Financing Postsecondary Education,’ with former UW-Madison Chancellor, John Wiley. I enjoyed immersing myself in this ELPA core while simultaneously engaging hands-on with the development of the Media Arts & Game Development program at UW-Whitewater. My studies, discussions, and reflections in ELPA directly informed and complemented the types of administrative work I tackled at UWW, including program development, marketing, conflict resolution, resources allocation, and budgeting. My administrative service to the university included helping build the Advisory Board, helping build a 21st Century multimedia lab with a $100k lab modernization fund, and executing a social media optimization marketing campaign to build a community around the program.

While I enjoyed this work, I simultaneously learned more about myself, becoming more self-aware of my intrinsic fascinations and goals. In the end, I found it a welcome relief to begin my formal studies in the area of Ed Tech, this being the area that drew me to study at UW-Madison in the first place.

Designer of 21st Century Learning Environments

To be totally honest, I have been looking for a clear definition of what I want to achieve/be in the world. My Master’s Thesis at Indiana University, GameZombie TV, has proven a pretty darn successful project, all things considered. Bragging points include: millions of video views around the world, hundreds of students positively impacted, and four Webby Awards. But I must consider where this work stands in terms of a larger agenda, a bigger mission and purpose. I always wanted to keep GZ in the university—it has always been my instinct. Though we positioned the web video studio to achieve escape velocity from the university, perhaps my unconscious yearning to keep the project connected to academia prevailed.

Now I find my propensity for hard work pushed to the max, but in a good way. My core commitments include: PhD student in Ed Tech at UW-Madison, faculty in MAGD at UWW, and Exec Producer of GameZombie TV, (which is now run simultaneously out of Wisconsin and Indiana). But in the big picture I see these three threads cleanly converging on the single purpose of becoming a leading designer of cutting edge 21st Century Learning Environments.

Expertise in the Field of ECT

The most obvious goal I have for the course is to develop my formal expertise of the field, building mastery of ECT’s key works and primary themes. Beyond this, I want to zero in on important, unanswered research questions that I can attack. I’d like to formulate a preliminary dissertation thesis as well as begin deep research of the topic and resource organization. The two topics I have most seriously considered are:

  • how multimedia technologies and immersion are affecting the way we think, work, and live
  • and the successful development and implementation of project-based digital multimedia learning environments.

Conferences, Journals, Grants, CV
Critically, I would like to begin to attend the important Ed Tech conferences around the country, read the most important journals, (and begin to develop works for publication), as well as research and develop grants, (both for my doctoral studies and my applied work at UWW). I would also like to remaster my CV—and web presence—repositioning myself as a scholar/designer of Ed Tech. I would like to do all of this while remaining sane and not damaging my body by too often neglecting sleep. I’m teaching five classes at UWW, (all of which I have personally developed), taking two classes at UW-Madison, and overseeing GameZombie in two states. I’m living and working in a liminal zone where I honestly don’t know if I can deliver the goods, but the challenge is the type of masochism that puts hair on your chest and makes you stronger, in the Nietzschean sense of the word.

Knowledge Work

Lesson 7: Knowledge Work
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker

Using online (in- and out-of-game) WoW resources, find the answer to one genuine question related to your character class. Using the articles as the basis, trace your problem solving process & the resources you were able to leverage toward developing an answer.

Readings:

· Thomas, D. (2009). Scalable learning: From simple to complex in World of Warcraft. On the Horizon, 17(1), 35-46.


· Steinkuehler, C. & Duncan, S. (2009). Informal scientific reasoning in online virtual worlds. Journal of Science Education & Technology.

“Where can I get the best gun possible for my Dwarf Hunter?”

I started with this simple question, which led me down the rabbit’s hole of inquiry and investigation. Naturally, there was no direct or best answer. In fact, the answer changed over time, as my character leveled up, accumulated more money, and unlocked more areas of the map. Concomitantly, the answer changed as I learned more about the World of Warcraft, investigated more online and offline resources, consulted experts, and of course learned to ask better and more informed questions.

The process of discovering where and how to obtain the best possible gun for my Dwarf Hunter required me to utilize an informal scientific methodology, starting out with a research question that led to an intensive engagement with the bricolage of resources available. The process of inquiry was complimented by hands-on trial and error exploration. Ultimately, I arrived at a temporarily satisfactory conclusion—one that will need to be reexamined and updated at a later time, when the field inevitably advances, (ie. my character grows stronger and richer and certain elements of the world update and other relevant information refreshes).

The answer turns out to be that the level 15 gunsmith, Irene Sureshot, who lives in a remote community on the southeastern edge of Loch Modan, sells a Large Bore Blunderbuss, which costs a hefty 35 silver and 83 copper.

But getting to that information was no easy feat.

The journey of scientific inquiry first began when I asked Adrian—our Virtual Worlds resident expert—on the first day of class which hunter and class he recommended I choose. He recommended a Hunter Dwarf because the character would eventually be able to deal lethal amounts of damage per second, but not until I’d acquired a tank pet that I could sick on enemies, and a powerful gun that I could meanwhile use to blast them from a distance. I did not get a pet until level 10, and even then, I got the wrong kind of pet, (a spider), having to do research, consult, and explore through trial error, in order to figure out how to abandon my spider and then tame an Elder Black Bear, (which I later learned I could rename Hrothgar). I then attacked the question of how to obtain the best gun possible—an inquiry that required several attempts before I arrived at a satisfactory conclusion.

I studied a variety of resources—almost entirely online—including World of Warcraft’s massive forums, WoWWiki, Thotbot, Wowhead, Curse, and the Game Manual. I experimented with a variety of Google searches including such terms as: “…hunter dwarf best gun merchant gunsmith loch modan blunderbuss ironforge rifle auction where how to most damage per second dps…” etc., in different orders and combinations, unearthing various nerd conversations from the recesses of the Internet, living and dead.

I paid attention to the conversation threads of fellow players in the world in order to immerse myself in WoW’s discourse, unconsciously becoming more confident of what I knew and didn’t know about how the world worked and where best guns for a hunter dwarves can be found. And once again, I consulted my local expert, Adrian, both online (via in game text) and offline (in person). He could not be certain where such a gun existed exactly but believed it could be found either via an auction in Ironforge or via concentrated research like I described above. Finally, I continued to explore the map either through the in game overview layout, hovering over different elements and reading about them, and via running around the World of Warcraft ‘in person,’ both living and dead. (Dead exploring has certain advantages, like the fact that you can’t be killed…again).

The key breakthrough came via a combination of different strands of research. I learned that the right search term was ‘gunsmith loch modan’ which revealed the page on Thotbot, which had since become my favorite resource site for its clear presentation highlighted by maps. I discovered that Irene Sureshot, the gunsmith, dwelled in a remote area of the map I’d been exploring for days, though I had never uncovered her neck of the woods. By keeping the Thotbot page open in the browser and using ‘windowed’ mode in WoW, I followed the in game map to her position, unlocking a whole new section of Loch Modan, and simultaneously the achievement for having fully explored the area. Irene did indeed sell the strongest gun I’d yet encountered.

Combining the Large Bore Blunderbuss with various spells, such as the Aspect of the Hawk, and my leveled up tank pet, Hrothgar, I had at last become what I set out to become in the beginning—a mean, lean, Dwarf Hunter, dps machine. And I had arrived at this glorious moment via a long, arduous process of informal scientific inquiry, reasoning, trial and error, and discovery.

Identity


Lesson 4: Identity
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker




Assignment Due: Who is your avatar? What is the relationship between your avatar and your self? Use the readings to explore this relationship.

Analyzing World of Warcraft’s Notion of Identity via a Close Reading of Turkle, S. (1997). Aspects of the self; Tinysex and gender trouble. Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet (pp. 177-232). New York: Touchstone.

Writes Turkle: “…for him, a favorite MUD afforded an escape valve for anxiety and anger that felt too dangerous to exercise in real life. Julee’s role playing provided an environment for working on important personal issues.”


Ventilation and/or Therapy

This notion of video games as ventilation and/or therapy reminds me of several things at once. On the one hand I think of the intensely visceral experience I have had playing Grand Theft Auto IV as Niko Bellic (more so than the detached experience I have had playing my WoW avatar, ZZ Blackstone). And on the other, I think of the violence in video games controversy—in particular, the debate after Columbine as to whether Klebold and Harris were influenced to commit atrocities by their experiences playing Doom and Wolfenstein. Turkle’s point, written in 1995—fourteen years before GTA IV came out in 2009—remains relevant to this ongoing debate.


Niko, the Homicidal Terrorist

Niko is not the ideal, rugged handsome hero like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Christian Bale as Batman, or Daniel Craig as James Bond 007. Rather, he’s a scumbag. More aptly, he has a scumbag-quality that plays on a video game screen as it never could in a feature film, which is a passive representation, a narrative that unfolds without any interaction from the audience. Important to note: there’s never been a GTA film adaptation despite huge sales of the franchise. Niko goes so far over the edge—in his role as avatar, controlled by us, the gamers—that he’s not even a charismatic anti-hero, he’s a homicidal terrorist.


Or, perhaps more to the point, he makes us into homicidal terrorists.

When I play as Niko, am I “working through”? Playing as Niko in GTA, more so than in any other gaming franchise—including WoW, Assassin’s Creed, or even Hitman—there’s a sometimes scary sense of crossing the line, going too far. Massacring civilians in an ultra hyper realistic New York knock off can definitely give you the creeps. But simultaneously, when that guilty pleasure is at its most raw, that’s when the game is the most impactful, the most fun. As the lead designer of Prototype, Eric Holmes, has said in interviews: players want to behave badly. If there’s a bus full of schoolchildren dangling from a cliff, in an open world action game, such as GTA IV, you better believe most gamers are going to send those kids to their bloody demise. Gamers want to behave badly and games like GTA IV serve players this experience on a macabre, morally ambiguous platter.

Case in point: driving in GTA is truly sociopathic; the gameplay mechanics cause you to smash into everything, killing pedestrians brutally and constantly. The game invites this. It’s almost impossible to drive patiently enough to avoid wreaking carnage—the game play designers expect and encourage you to drive like a maniac. That’s why it’s so easy to replace totaled cars by jacking new ones. Of course, throughout this entire murderous experience, there’s a snarky laughing up your sleeve quality to the whole thing, which perhaps alleviates what might otherwise be a dark rehearsal for a life as a narcissistically delusional mass murderer. Cops are another case in point. Players know they’re being abhorrent when they kill cops. In real life (RL), cops are intimidating. They make a room go silent. They cause us to become self-conscious and evaluate our behavior to make sure we’re acting ‘within the law.’ People have a complicated view of cops. We need them, we respect them, sometimes we like them, sometimes we hate them, sometimes we’re afraid of them. Killing cops in GTA provides a kind of visceral pleasure—we experience guilt intermixed with a sociopathic catharsis.

GTA Designers Smart-Ass Approach to Cops


Importantly, the way the GTA IV designers have written, performed, and recorded the voices of the in-game police reveals their smart-ass approach to the whole thing. GTA cops are extremely aggressive, rude, mean, and foolish—somewhere between Keystone cops, Reno 911, and real life cops caught on YouTube beating civilians. They’re rarely if ever portrayed as 3 dimensional, sympathetic, or heroic. Ironically, being chased by cops actually serves in the game as a way to keep the player in check because evading cops can become a dreary penance for acting too mischievously. The more cops you kill the higher your Star Rating becomes, making it exponentially more difficult to lose the heat. For practical game play purposes, it makes the most tactical sense to kill the least amount of cops possible so you can break free with only 2 or 3 stars. Elevating your star rating to 4-6 is purely recreational, like a survival mode, because you will almost certainly be killed or arrested, wind up back in the hospital or jail, and lose your money or weapons. The designers force you to be somewhat reasonable, (and non-bloodthirsty), if you want to progress through the game’s story. So even in the game—as in life—we are forced to follow the rules, and get in line.
Returning to this idea of “working through,” which Turkle develops in her book: is that in fact what’s happening in violent video games, like GTA IV? Am I “working through” my repressed sociopathic impulses via my identity association with Niko Bellic? Turkle points out that truly successful therapy requires a professional therapist to help you break free of your crazy cycles, of your lack of ability to see beyond the same murky mistakes you make over and over. She makes the point that ventilation is not the same as progressive psychotherapy. In this analysis, the notion that playing Niko Bellic affords the opportunity to heal or clarify issues for troubled youths is a dubious one, because people with problems need more than to exercise/exorcise their violent impulses.

“Working Through”

This brings me back to the second part of this thought, which is whether or not Harris and Klebold were damaged by playing violent games, or nudged toward the brink. In my view, these were deeply troubled boys with dark issues of rage inside them. They were denied access to play games during the month leading up to the massacre, which presents evidence that their ventilation of violent impulses through video games had been working on some level, as if they were self-medicating. I personally do not get the impulse to shoot anyone after vicariously inhabiting the body of a psycho like Niko Bellic, and I believe the overwhelming majority of people who play violent video games share this sentiment. On the other hand, young people who have violent impulses will probably continue to be disproportionately attracted to violent video games, but perhaps this is a good thing, since the games will serve as an outlet for this aggression, rather than a primer for real world killing.