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Old 08-20-2009   #1
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Default It's a virtual world (?)

It's a virtual world (?)

By Dr. Marc Tyrrell

We just had a very interesting briefing on a “new” teaching method which might best be described as a case study method via virtual reality. As with many case study methods, this presented the “facts” of a real world situation. Where the virtual reality played in, was via shifting the sensory input – VR with full sound effects in place of powerpoint. This type of training capability is, on the whole, extremely useful. It is also, potentially, both limiting and limited – as, I must note, is all training.

Let me pull out some of the limitations and potentials of this “new” type of training.

First of all, a case study method works best in an interactive environment with a highly skilled and motivated facilitator. Done well, such methods can produce significant learning. But this particular format is being looked at as both an in-class and at-home learning tool. The value of the case study method usually lies in the interaction of different opinions and inputs, a situation that tends to be absent in a stand-alone download form. The lessons aren't “learned” in such a setting since the students perceptions are not challenged. TRADOC might wish to think about deploying these in either a network configuration similar to real-time gaming, a la WarCraft, or they may think about tying it in with an online discussion board.

Second, case study methods rarely allow one to “game” what they would have done and see the (probable) effects of what their choices would have been. This pedagogical style does not allow people to learn from failure. This is a crucial problem for students, especially when they will be placed in situations where “failure” translates into deaths. Case study methodology, however, can easily be extended based on most likely choice potentials and costs. Again, the prototype for this comes out of the gaming world with the old “pick your path” adventures. Unlike these older games, real world events can be used as the basis for assigning probable consequences for individual choices.

Third, there are always limitations established within any teaching methodology. Case study methodologies tend to handle this problem via discussion between participants, but the potentials are limited by the knowledge and perceptions of those participants. In order to overcome some of this limitation, there was a very interesting form of case based education started by McMaster University that used learning groups from diverse backgrounds.

All of these limitations and opportunities became evident to me as I watched the scenario and thought “how am I reacting” and “how would my [civilian] students react?”. Given my own background as an Anthropologist, the questions I was asking at the start of the scenario differed significantly from the questions being asked in the room, here at the TRADOC SLC. What I found quite interesting, was that many of my questions were never asked and yet, if they had been asked, the scenario would have been less likely to play out the way it did in real life.
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Old 08-20-2009   #2
MikeF
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Hi Marc. This presentation seems to add to the discussion of seminars that we were discussing yesterday. Regardless of the medium (case study from a book, movie, or video game), this type of interaction is an excellent training tool.

Couple of thoughts:

1. Class size. My personal opinion is that one should not exceed ten students. 6-8 is probably the preferred number in order to maximize discussion from the entire group.

2. Facilitator training. The instructor becomes a facilitator, and he/she must be given specialized training on how to execute in order to maximize the time. I once subbed as a guest facilitator for a "wicked problems" class while my thesis advisor was away. Afterwards, I was struck by how much planning and preparation was required in order to properly conduct 1 x one hour class.

v/r

Mike
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Old 08-20-2009   #3
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Good points, Mike, thanks....

The sessions are just starting up again, so I'll post more later....

Cheers,

Marc
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Old 08-20-2009   #4
Billy Ruffian
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hi Marc!

This is pretty interesting. I lack the proper background and context to comment, I was wondering if you could clear 2 points up for me.

First: I appreciate how you make the distinction between a group and stand alone training tool. What I am wondering is, do you envision a learning environment where everyone is logged on to a simulation from different locales or are they all in the same room with the facilitator?

I'm only asking because I've seen people "play" (bitch n' moan seems to be more accurate) simulations like WoW with a teamspeak microphone system built in and I've seen them play much more successfully when they're all in the same room.

Physical presence, I've observed, tends to be more effective as people are able to intuitively know whose 'turn' it is to speak. Generally, the level of discourse also tends to be higher as participants are less likely to troll each other and generally poison the allegedly team-focused activities. Physical cues are important.

Secondly: By participating in an group simulation to test 'real-world' events, do you envision that the facilitator actively monitors/runs the simulation, periodically introducing new, unexpected challenges or even impossible scenarios? Or perhaps is this training style more suited to pitting two moderated groups in opposition to one another while a moderator essentially introduces variable ala a D&D style Dungeon Master?

I was also interested why you selected WoW as an example and not something like America's Army (is it too tactically centred to be of value as a teaching tool?)

Additionally, I've also observed that no matter how good the AI, nothing can really can compare to a living opponent as AI tends to lack the ability to act illogically and employ ruses IMO. Except maybe DEFCON, but that's not exactly what I would call a realistic Sim.

I tend to be a mechanics minded gamer myself. I might be missing a key piece of your argument here due to my own blinkers.
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Last edited by Billy Ruffian; 08-20-2009 at 09:15 PM. Reason: My grammar is poor. I added some proper punctuation and cut out unnecessary editorializing.
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Old 08-21-2009   #5
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Hi Billy,

Excellent points.

On your first one, I think we need to draw a spectrum from in-class, face-to-face with a facilitator all the way through to an individual downloading their own. The trick, to my mind, is how we can leverage technologies to mitigate the distance from the f2f + facilitator. Could we use online forums? Could we use real-time gaming? Honestly, this is an issue that goes well beyond the military and has some pretty serious implications for any form of education. BTW, any ideas you have would be appreciated - especially since I know where you work and what you're studying !

The second point is more tricky. The "final product" I would like to see would be a full blown, highly interactive virtual world type scenario - sort of like the gaming machines in Melissa Scott's The Game Beyond if you ever read it. We're not there yet, but what I saw was certainly impressive within its limits. As with most changes in teaching technology, i think it would be useful to start with the version they have now and gradually introduce more interaction and possibilities.

The problem with introducing radical changes in teaching technology is that you have to teach both the teachers how to use it and the students how to learn from it. The version they have now is a straight exaptation of older case study methods that they use right now, so there's not much of a learning curve. However, the more flexibility that's added into the system, the steeper the learning curve (especially for the teachers!).

On your last couple of points, and I think they are all related, let me just say that I selected WoW mainly because it is full of real people. The best "map" of a person is a person, so ideally, you would end up not using AIs at all - just people. That was one of the big strengths of D&D when you get right down to it. As long as you had a good DM, you could have a great game.

Cheers,

Marc
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Old 08-21-2009   #6
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Post I've always felt that one of the best ways to do something like that

Would be to coordinate with various institutions internationally and using the basic premise behind the training tool stuff have real live people actually make a living doing exactly that in a 3d environment of some sort.

WoW and other simply serve as proof of principle for can it be done. The trick would be buy-in from those you'd require to actually make it happen.
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Old 08-21-2009   #7
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Originally Posted by marct View Post
On your last couple of points, and I think they are all related, let me just say that I selected WoW mainly because it is full of real people. The best "map" of a person is a person, so ideally, you would end up not using AIs at all - just people. That was one of the big strengths of D&D when you get right down to it. As long as you had a good DM, you could have a great game.

Cheers,

Marc
Quite so, especially the table top RPG comment. I tend to prefer the idea of free play, moderated techniques...with the additional variation that actions by the players can modify their environment (within limits). That's why I always preferred the MUD/MUSH or tabletop setting to a WoW-type setting. Tabletop is of course the easiest to modify on the go, while a MUD can shift quickly due to its text-based nature. But once the engine becomes the end and not the means (which is sort of how I see things like WoW), you lose that flexibility.
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Old 08-21-2009   #8
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Default I alwasys make a distinction between

Case Method and Case Studies. The latter are research tools that take a particular case from its beginning to its end. Case Method teaching, by contrast, takes the case from its start point to the point of decision and demands that the students make that decision. Typically, it then provides data on what was actually done and the consequences of the action taken.
Frankly, a good asynchronous discussion lends itself well to Case method teaching. The instructor in such a situation is really quite naturally in a facilitator role. I can also see it being used relatively easily in a synchronous mode. And, setteing the stage by downloading some sort of video presentation would be an easy fit. So, all in all, I see it as a promising tool with all the usual caveats about doing it well.

Cheers

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Old 08-21-2009   #9
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Quite so, especially the table top RPG comment. I tend to prefer the idea of free play, moderated techniques...with the additional variation that actions by the players can modify their environment (within limits). That's why I always preferred the MUD/MUSH or tabletop setting to a WoW-type setting. Tabletop is of course the easiest to modify on the go, while a MUD can shift quickly due to its text-based nature. But once the engine becomes the end and not the means (which is sort of how I see things like WoW), you lose that flexibility.
I'm also a big fan of human-moderated RPG approaches to training, whether pencil-and-paper or computer-facilitated. However, the challenge from a training perspective is developing a skilled cadre of moderators, and then getting them to where the folks who need training are. You can't cut corners on this, or the process might be worse than useless--as anyone who has ever played D&D with a lame DM can attest.

By contrast, a software package offers the attraction of something that can be implemented in many places at the same time, therefore providing standardized training in volume. The problem is what you then lose in the process (the flexibility and inventiveness of a human moderator, and the danger of building unseen assumptions into the software that players can't challenge, and may even not be aware of.)
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Old 08-21-2009   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
I'm also a big fan of human-moderated RPG approaches to training, whether pencil-and-paper or computer-facilitated. However, the challenge from a training perspective is developing a skilled cadre of moderators, and then getting them to where the folks who need training are. You can't cut corners on this, or the process might be worse than useless--as anyone who has ever played D&D with a lame DM can attest.

By contrast, a software package offers the attraction of something that can be implemented in many places at the same time, therefore providing standardized training in volume. The problem is what you then lose in the process (the flexibility and inventiveness of a human moderator, and the danger of building unseen assumptions into the software that players can't challenge, and may even not be aware of.)
I understand that completely. Seen many lame DMs in my day, but also fallen victim to many lame software packages with good graphics. That's why I think the best compromise might be a software package (similar to the MUSH/MUD style) that allows a good core of skilled moderators to reach a large number of trainees. That way you can tweek the mechanics but still keep the human core and variable in place that's really needed (IMO) for this stuff to be of lasting value.
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Old 08-22-2009   #11
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Hi Guys,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Rex Brynen View Post
By contrast, a software package offers the attraction of something that can be implemented in many places at the same time, therefore providing standardized training in volume. The problem is what you then lose in the process (the flexibility and inventiveness of a human moderator, and the danger of building unseen assumptions into the software that players can't challenge, and may even not be aware of.)
Quote:
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I understand that completely. Seen many lame DMs in my day, but also fallen victim to many lame software packages with good graphics. That's why I think the best compromise might be a software package (similar to the MUSH/MUD style) that allows a good core of skilled moderators to reach a large number of trainees. That way you can tweek the mechanics but still keep the human core and variable in place that's really needed (IMO) for this stuff to be of lasting value.
I just finished looking over a rather good example of what Steve calls a "lame software package with good graphics" that was supposed to be used as a training package (sorry Nichols ). Yes, they are certainly out there as are really bad DMs out there in Military training exercises (I'm sure GEN Van Ripper could point to some...).

Having said that, from a "training perspective" (and you guys don't know how much I HATE using that phrase!), you can (re)train people, but you can't (re)train and environment (modify it, yes). So, to my mind, it makes the most sense to create as open, realistic and flexible environment for training that will actually show up any problems with humans. This is why I like the idea of a WoW or Second Life type of environment with real people "DMs" and avatars playing the support cast.

Of course, the quality of your DMs has to be really good, and the criteria for "good" in this case is a perception / skill set that isn't selected for in many training organizations (actually, it's often selected against in these types of organizations!). Within the US military, I suspect that some of your best DM candidates would come from special forces and the Marines. Outside of the military, look for smart ass 12-20 year olds who are making a name for themselves in gaming circles (BTW, I remember going to Origins in 1982 and watch a 12 year old beat the snot out of an Armour CPT in a Microarmor game). If you can find any of them (okay, "us", and now I'm showing my age....), see if you can recruit any of the first generation of DMs from the early 1970's.
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Old 08-24-2009   #12
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If you can find any of them (okay, "us", and now I'm showing my age....), see if you can recruit any of the first generation of DMs from the early 1970's.
I'd add in the second wave from the 1980s as well, mainly because games had really expanded from the fantasy settings by that time. I ran a number of espionage-based games, as well as stuff set in the Old West and a 1920s Chicago-type setting.

I'd prefer a Second Life-type setting to WoW, simply because SL is customizeable and WoW doesn't seem to be. But yeah, you HAVE to have the human element in as both DMs and players. If you take that element out, it's shorted.
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Old 08-24-2009   #13
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Hi Steve,

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I'd add in the second wave from the 1980s as well, mainly because games had really expanded from the fantasy settings by that time. I ran a number of espionage-based games, as well as stuff set in the Old West and a 1920s Chicago-type setting.
I started DMing back in '74 and running tournaments in '75, so I got to see both the first wave and the second (and 3rd) wave crowd. The first tended to be pretty good, while the second had some great people and some hacks. The third wave didn't impress me at all.

The key difference always seemed to be in how much "support" (read "control") the games tried to establish to "help" the GM. The key variable, at least from what I saw, was the ability to use an active imagination and, if a GM had it, then the rule conventions would be used as mere background mechanics while, if they didn't have it, they became a strangle hold on the players.

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I'd prefer a Second Life-type setting to WoW, simply because SL is customizeable and WoW doesn't seem to be. But yeah, you HAVE to have the human element in as both DMs and players. If you take that element out, it's shorted.
I'd prefer SL myself, but I'd like to use a modified VR sensory input with something like a Wii controller.
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Old 08-24-2009   #14
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The first tended to be pretty good, while the second had some great people and some hacks. The third wave didn't impress me at all.

The key difference always seemed to be in how much "support" (read "control") the games tried to establish to "help" the GM. The key variable, at least from what I saw, was the ability to use an active imagination and, if a GM had it, then the rule conventions would be used as mere background mechanics while, if they didn't have it, they became a strangle hold on the players.



I'd prefer SL myself, but I'd like to use a modified VR sensory input with something like a Wii controller.
I was never a big fan of the third generation either, but I think they were in part influenced by things like Magic and the other card games. Agree on the rules...I spent too much time in some games with a DM who couldn't be bothered to read the rules correctly and ended up screwing us about 75% of the time. Rules are important, but they should just provide a framework and never get in the way of the game (at least in ways that don't make sense for the environment).
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Old 08-24-2009   #15
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Rules are important, but they should just provide a framework and never get in the way of the game (at least in ways that don't make sense for the environment).
I used to distinguish between rules that define the "world" of the game, and rules that define the "conventions" of the game. Since I am one of the few people who is legally allowed to play a Lawful Good assassin in D&D (after a 5 minute chat with Gary Gygax back in '79), that should give you an idea of how "seriously" I take the "conventions" of the game .

Back when I was in the Improvisational Olympics (that's improv acting, Stan ), we used to have an event where a team would be given a story beginning, middle and end and we would have to improv the scenes to achieve those points. We would be scored on plausibility of arriving at those scenes when we competed - very similar to a good tournament game.
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Old 08-24-2009   #16
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I used to distinguish between rules that define the "world" of the game, and rules that define the "conventions" of the game. Since I am one of the few people who is legally allowed to play a Lawful Good assassin in D&D (after a 5 minute chat with Gary Gygax back in '79), that should give you an idea of how "seriously" I take the "conventions" of the game .

Back when I was in the Improvisational Olympics (that's improv acting, Stan ), we used to have an event where a team would be given a story beginning, middle and end and we would have to improv the scenes to achieve those points. We would be scored on plausibility of arriving at those scenes when we competed - very similar to a good tournament game.
Actually the idea of a LG assassin doesn't seem all that "beyond the pale" to me, provided that it makes sense within the setting of the game. I was always a big setting guy (and remain one to this day with my games), and the conventions of the world were always more important to me than the mechanics. Any set of rules can be tweeked or nudged to make them more workable, but a bad setting is just that...and many of them are impossible to fix (unless you count tossing them out the window and starting from scratch "fixing").

I get deep enough into setting that I reworked the entire RoleMaster rules system (including the magic stuff) to work logically within a world I created. Too much geekiness isn't always a good thing....
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Old 08-24-2009   #17
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I get deep enough into setting that I reworked the entire RoleMaster rules system (including the magic stuff) to work logically within a world I created. Too much geekiness isn't always a good thing....
I know that feeling ! I ran my own game design company for five years....
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