Digital Media and Education

This class has taught me so many unique skills and provided me with very helpful knowledge for my interests and studies in education and training, as well as in Human and Organizational Development (HOD). Besides the very obvious skills of game design, blog writing, and media presentation, I also learned very important professional skills through my class experience.
I was always interested in creating educational materials or programs, but I had thought that I would write or do project management, and then let the graphic designers and programmers take care of all the hard stuff that I wasn’t good at. My parents (and my research) suggested that I still understand the basic principles of technology so I could understand what the technology was capable of. I did not have to be a “tech geek,” but I was selling myself short by thinking that I just wouldn’t be able to learn or wouldn’t enjoy learning about it. Reading “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle for another class showed me that any person can learn any skill. Playing LOTRO definitely put me out of my comfort zone. I spent hours trying to solve basic quests, and I felt very awkward with many of the controls. However, the experience helped me realize that I can learn to use new media and obtain some level of proficiency with them. It does take lots of hard work, but eventually, I can attain the skills. Hopefully, I can figure out the Neverwinter Nights toolset! And while I still find technology frustrating, I do not find it impossible.
In terms of knowledge pertaining to my industry interests, I gained invaluable experience by being a guinea pig in one of “Vanderbilt’s first flipped classrooms”. Yes, the use of a buzzword was intentional. There are lots of great buzzwords that I can use when discussing my class experiences with someone in the education technology field. I get weekly emails from EdSurge, an education technology news site (https://www.edsurge.com/), and I’ve been able to connect the advice I glean from the newsletter to the skills and experience I gain from class. The fact that I took part in a MOOC and analyzed it in class? Major buzzword brownie points. Our discussion of “gameification” in class linked to my casual reading about “Game-based learning.” It’s a really interesting concept, and I’m fascinated by all the industry has to offer. Check out this cool article: https://www.edsurge.com/guide/gaming#View-Product-Comparisons. I loved the opportunity to analyze an educational “video game,” and through class presentations, I noticed a clear difference in quality between the vast majority of educational games and mainstream video games. The industry has a lot of work to do! I hope to really use these experiences as marketing opportunities in my job search, as well as practical knowledge to use if I get the chance to create my own educational programs.

EMG

The Kitely Museum

I love museums, especially historical ones, and I believe they truly provide a unique and exciting method of education. I would love to work in the museum field, so when I discovered that Vanderbilt was offering a class in exhibit design, I knew it would provide an excellent opportunity to learn all about museums.
My class is designed to make an exhibit of Chinese sculpture that will be on display in the fall of next year. My professor chose a very unique and high-tech approach to help us brainstorm ideas for designing the exhibit. We are using Kitely, a site that she has compared to Second Life. With the help of the Director of Visual Resources, she has created sample exhibit spaces for us to use online so that we can virtually design how we believe the exhibit should look.
When I entered the “world” they had created, I found myself surrounded by little boxes that were galleries with the names of members of our class on them. I felt like I was part of an HGTV design challenge where the designers get their own “spaces” to decorate. In the middle of this area sits what has been titled the “sculpture garden.” My professor and the Visual Resources director explained that the images we see in the program are to scale with the real objects that we will display, even in terms of three-dimensionality. There is also a “garden of pedestals” with the different platforms that the museum has.
So far, I’ve mostly explored around the world, playing around with my gallery and looking at all the different actions my avatar can perform, which were also discussed in class. I like the fact that I can move my “character” in different ways, by walking, running, or flying (which would have been very helpful in LOTRO!). I also played around with customizing my appearance (hence the awkward half-red, half-blue shirt that I’m sporting) and attempting to move the objects. I still have some difficulty moving around, and I am struggling to move objects from the center to my personal gallery. I’ve had some humorous challenges, such as “wearing” the pedestal instead of moving it somewhere else, or attempting to move around inside the gallery and not being able to see where I am. As in other games, practice makes perfect, and I look forward to seeing all of the exciting exhibits my classmates and I design.
insidegalleryinsidegallery

EMG

Learning and Fun: A History Nerd’s Perspective

I love History. SO. MUCH. In second grade, my elementary school had “career day” where we dressed up like what job we wanted to have when we grew up. I wore a vintage outfit and cape in order to be a “docent seamstress.” In my free time, I would devour books about life in historical time periods. Between history camps, American Girl dolls, cross-stitch samplers, and a history bowl; I learned all kinds of interesting things. I understand that many people aren’t big fans of history. It can seem boring or irrelevant; I get that. I’ve seen lots of boring documentaries in school and I’ve read some history books that make me question, “why am I learning this again?” But learning stuff like this doesn’t have to be dry.
I originally chose to take this course because I am interested in how video games use narrative and stories to educate players. I am very interested in developing educational materials, and I though this class would provide an excellent opportunity to learn some of the skills associated with informal education. Thus, I was excited to select an educational “video game” to research for my class presentation. I had heard about educational games that focused on the Revolutionary War from various educational websites. The Revolutionary War is one of my favorite periods to study (I got star-struck at Colonial Williamsburg). When I found Mission US and its Revolutionary War game, I knew I had found something to satisfy my inner history nerd. Over the weekend, I played through Mission 1, which deals with the occupation of Boston right around the time of the Boston massacre. I also looked at Mission 2, which discusses slavery.
I won’t go into too much detail here about the game, but I have to say that this game is better than some other educational games I have looked at. I like the interactive nature of it. It kind of reminds me of the Oregon Trail (especially Mission 2, which incorporates a lot of travel). Basically, the main character narrates some elements from his or her life, and then the player must fulfill certain “tasks” that the character must complete. You have a little bit of control over what your character says, which is fun because you can make their responses polite, sassy, or neutral. While the animation is a little cheesy, the art and drawings are very high-quality. I’ve definitely had history presented to me in more interesting ways before, but this game isn’t too bad. I wish there were more opportunities to actually engage in the actions your character performs, like operating the printing press. This game reminds me of American Girl online games I used to play when I was younger. They seem to have very similar premises to Mission US, with varying degrees of interactivity. One game follows Kaya, a Native American, through a journey, with some interactive mini-activities along the way, including fishing and building a fire. I think if Mission US incorporated some of these models, the game could be much more exciting. It will be interesting to analyze the educational effectiveness of the game and understand it in the context of other games, educational and recreational.
EMG

Can you hear the people sing?

Les Miserables is a fabulous movie, and from what I’ve heard, also a fabulous musical. The music is phenomenal, the story is powerful, and the emotion is almost overwhelming. After I first watched it, I stumbled out of the theater awe-struck by its beauty, certain that it would win every sort of Oscar imaginable. Andrew Lloyd Weber deserves to be remembered throughout history as a composer on the level of Beethoven and Mozart, a genius like Einstein. To my dismay, Les Mis has not received very many awards. My family and I (even those who didn’t really like the movie) thought that it was robbed (but that’s another story).
The film uses a variety of cinematic techniques to fully convey the story and help viewers identify with characters. Les Mis is very long, and I’ve heard some object to its length (mostly family members and friends). In my opinion, Les Mis is an appropriate length, and the film is not so long that it bores me. I still cry at the end of the movie, even though I’ve seen it multiple times, and they aren’t tears of relief that the movie is finally over. The fact that the movie can still cause that emotion after so many other emotional scenes shows that it maintains an appropriate discourse time. In fact, much of the movie seems very rushed, as if the producers are racing to capture a few moments within a certain year, and then fast-forward eight years into the future to portray the next phase of Jean Valjean’s life. As the movie progresses, each scene and year receives more detailed attention, so that the viewer truly gets a sense of the importance of each event.
Despite its fast pace, the film contains many pauses in the action as well, what we’ve defined in class as “lyrical interludes.” We have discussed how Tolkien and Jackson use songs as lyric interludes within the Lord of the Rings novels and movie. However, Les Mis takes a slightly different approach, since the whole movie involves singing. Usually an interlude takes place when a character is by themself. The camera will usually zoom in on his or her face, and the music often changes. There are too many incredible interludes to discuss in depth, but many interludes are scenes when a main character prays or reflects on his or her life. The two most famous female interludes include “I dreamed a dream” and “On my own,” by Fantine, and Eponine, respectively. These are very heartbreaking and emotional reflections on distressing events in their lives. On the other hand, the protagonist, Jean Valjean, has a variety of interludes with many different forms of emotions. He expresses gratitude towards God and the bishop for saving him, shows doubt and temptation in “Who am I?,” and fear in “Bring Him Home.” Almost all of Valjean’s interludes are portrayed as prayers, so the audience understands that he is expressing very intimate thoughts.
The film uses a variety of shots to show point of view for several different characters. One would assume that since Valjean is the protagonist, he would be portrayed with many shot/reverse shots to help the audience identify with him. As we discussed in class, the film will show a character’s reaction to something he or she sees, and then the scene will cut to the person or object the protagonist is looking at. Les Mis uses this technique during very early expository scenes in which Valjean attempts to find work, but he constantly is refused, beat up, and kicked out of places. The viewers see his tormentors, and they can identify with is feelings of fear and rejection. The audience also sees the looming dark walls when Javert is chasing him, and they can receive the same emotions of distress and fear as he escapes with Cosette. “Bring Him Home” also shows what Valjean sees as he watches Marius sleep and prays for his safety.
On the other hand, many supporting characters also have scenes of shot/reverse shot. For example, we see Fantine’s fearful and pleading face during “At the End of the Day,” and then the camera shows the manager leering down at her as he kicks her out of the factory. We see her lying in bed at the hospital singing to Cosette, and then the scene shows a “ghostly” image of the girl walking towards Fantine. However, when Valjean arrives, he cannot see Cosette, so we know that we just witnessed the apparition from Fantine’s perspective. Marius also has several shot/reverse shot scenes in which the audience sees his perceptions of Cosette as he talks to her. We watch him look at Cosette with love when he meets her and when he talks to her at her house. The most dramatic shot occurs when Marius wakes up after the battle to find his father leaning over him. This clearly puts the audience in Marius’s mind, because the camera mimics his blinking eyes and confusion. We can hear singing in the background, and as discussed in class, this sound seems to reflect that he may be the only one hearing the music. These scenes help the audience understand what is going on in the story from each character’s perspective, and it also helps the audience place themselves in different character’s shoes.

I would like to thank sparknotes for helping me understand the movie before I watched it for the first time.
http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/lesmis/

EMG

A whole new world

Like many of my classmates, I am very new to gaming. My first “quest” in Lord of the Rings Online involved figuring out how to actually get the game to work on my computer. The game worked for a few days, and then I suddenly had difficulties getting the game to load. After hours of testing the game, researching, doing more testing, and getting other people to help me, I finally figured out how to download the game to my computer.
Now that it’s working, I find the game to be pretty interesting. I like being able to explore more of Middle Earth than just the lands that the books and movies discuss. The game creators must have put so much creativity and passion into developing all of the details.
Most of the guys I talk to are really jealous that I get to play LOTRO for class and ask me how they can get into the class. My girl friends love to tease me about my LOTRO playing, especially since I don’t fit the typical gamer stereotype, being in a sorority and all. Apparently calling it LOTRO is like having a pet name for it, and they crack up when I start referring to my character in the first person. I’ll be complaining about a wolf attacking me, and they’ll look at me with a confused expression until they realize that I’m referring to the game. My friend told me that the other night I was wearing headphones while playing and letting out little exclamations every now and then. What can I say, I’m glad my frustration entertains people. I think that despite their mocking, they do find the concept fascinating.
In all seriousness, I think the game is really cool, but challenging. It is a little difficult to maneuver my character; I have some issues with getting the right angle for basic tasks, such as opening a door or fighting an opponent. Navigating can be pretty tough, too, since the quest-tracker will indicate the right direction to go, but not the best route to take. There have been a lot of times when I’ve had to skirt around a mountain or creep through some bushes or trees to get to the right place without enemies seeing me. This element of the game has encouraged me to explore and be more creative with the tactics I use in getting places. I’ve had lots of opportunities to explore the Chetwood Forest, since most of my quests have been there, and I keep getting killed and having to go back through the forest again and again. The quests are very difficult, especially the “kill” ones, and my fighting skills are not very well-developed. I like being able to use my Burglar’s advantage and a “Riddle” skill that stuns your opponent, but I’m not very good at regular attacks. I’m definitely mostly interested in uncovering the storyline that the game follows, so sometimes I get annoyed with how long it takes to complete the quests.I think it would be nice to receive a hint or two from the game, but it has been really beneficial to learn from the other people in my class. Hopefully lots of assistance and practice will make me much better at the game than I am now!
-EMG

King of Kong: Who is the King of Games?

At first glance, King of Kong seems to be a basic history of videogaming, with a few really passionate players talking about how much they love these games. The film takes a drastic turn when the conflict about Roy Schildt and Steve Weibe versus Billy Mitchell begins. I was surprised to hear about the so-called “bad blood” between Schildt and Mitchell. I found myself unsure of which party I should trust. The film implied that perhaps Walter Day’s organization, which is closely related to Billy Mitchell, was not completely objective in the way it treated Steve Weibe. Most of my classmates agreed with the film on this point, but we also did not trust Roy Schildt. I think this confusion points to a greater problem in the video game industry: a lack of organizations that keep scores.
The documentary presented the video game community as a very small, informal group. There was a small central office where Walter Day and a few other members worked, but beyond this structure, there did not seem to be much of a central organization. I found it odd that a small business was the major authority for these video game scores. I would put greater trust in scores kept by the official game producers, such as Atari.
According to the film, these official systems were not in place, so Walter Day took the initiative to create Twin Galaxies. When I Google searched “Donkey Kong high scores”, the Twin Galaxies blog appeared. When I looked up “Donkey Kong,” I found Nintendo’s website. The website for Donkey Kong did not appear to have the official scores. So, at least according to Google, Twin Galaxies is legitimate and seems to be the only place to find these high scores. Their website looks very professional and the company seems to have grown.
Perhaps I was thrown off by the documentary’s treatment of Twin Galaxies, or perhaps it has changed over time. I definitely believe that old-school video games have become much more popular as the years have gone by. I was familiar with some of the older games, since my dad would often play Pac-man or Galaga online. I remember when some of the major stores began selling joysticks that you could plug into the TV and play a variety of old-school games. These devices added Pole Position, Frogger, and Mappy to my repertoire. I saw many of these games mentioned in King of Kong, and I wonder if the documentary inspired others to play the old games again.

kong scores
Google search of “donkey kong high scores”
Kong results
Google search results for “donkey kong”

scorekeeperwebsite
Twin Galaxies website

-EMG

Reflections on Braid

When I first heard that we would be playing a game called Braid, the first thing that popped into my head was an image of a Celtic knot, something in the style of Disney’s Brave. Of course, the actual game was very different from my conceptualization of it, but it was interesting nonetheless. I met up with two of my classmates to work together in order to learn the game. One of my teammates had played Braid before, so he was able to offer helpful hints to the other girl in the group and me. Neither she nor I had experience with the game, so we struggled with the rules and the physics of the game for a while. I was not very good at timing jumps or creating bridges so that the protagonist could reach platforms that were higher up or farther away. Once I realized that I would have to jump on top of the lions in order to reach certain platforms, I made a connection between the game and Angry Birds. Both games involve working with the laws of physics in order to complete levels. One of the big surprises of the game, the “time” element, did not totally shock me, since I had seen a promotional video on Steam that described it. One major change was figuring out that some objects were, as my classmate put it, “outside of time.” Sometimes, this was a positive thing, since it allowed me to use a key multiple times in a level. However, occasionally, it was frustrating to not be able to move an item when one was going back in time. I was a little thrown off by some of the characters. The bunny rabbits seemed to come straight from Monty Python, and the plants seemed to evoke “Little Shop of Horrors.” The dinosaur coming out of the castle appeared to be a reference to the Mario games. During an in-class discussion, my classmates had brought up the possibilities of these references as critiques of or nods to popular culture.

Overall, I enjoyed the game and liked having a sort of “mystery” to solve. I probably do not have the time or skills to complete the game any time soon, but the narrative is intriguing enough that I wouldn’t mind going back later to try to finish it.

EMG