ALT Summit Debrief

The North Carolina Advanced Learning Technologies Association (NC ALTA) did a great job organizing the first Advanced Learning Technologies (ALT) Summit, which aimed to bring industry and though leaders together to discuss the state and future of advanced learning technologies. Some time has passed now, but I wanted to mention the summit and some of the highlights.

Something Big is a Brewing

I think NC ALTA has really started a powerful ball rolling by creating a common focus on which a number of industries and research disciplines are beginning to converge. To demonstrate this let me list areas represented by the some of the people I encountered at the conference:

  • Game engine developers
  • Serious game developers
  • Developers of virtual worlds including frameworks like Second Life or Croquet. This also includes the corporate facet aimed at facilitating remote work and collaboration via a virtualized workplace.
  • Researchers dealing with immersive visualizations and virtual experiences. This includes some of the cool immersive environments hosted by RENCI.
  • Second (or third?) generation of e-learning companies and their interest in assessment, monitoring, and integration into larger learning management systems.
  • Educators interested in getting these technologies out in the schools and in the hands of students. As well as educators interested in seeing proper learning theory incorporated into program design.

Now imagine the intersection of all (or some) of these groups.

Parallel Tinkering and Research

I attended one birds-of-a-feather discussion that dealt with educational games and simulations in higher ed. I was surprised at the number of professors and students who have already begun building, deploying, and testing their educational games within their universities. Some folks met up after the round table and shared war stories, common hang-ups, and I think even identified some future collaborations. Exciting stuff!

One thing that came up a number of times during that session was the fact that we did have a number of independent development efforts going on. Essentially, each project required the development of a slew of management frameworks, authentication, integration with LMSs, middleware, etc. Everyone needed these same components and so everyone wrote their own.

Libby Evans of UNC and several others identified the need for some common, modular solutions to these problems. Establishing a framework of common solutions would allow researchers to focus on the interesting problems and it would encourage compatibility and collaboration. So it seems like a nice next step would be to look at the number of developed solutions and start distilling out some design patterns.

The Efficacy of Games in Education

Do games actually work in education? can they be used as a tool to teach or explore? I am particularly interested in this topic and have begun looking at this in terms of math games. Marrilea Mayo of the Kauffman Foundation was kind enough to share a tremendous amount of her own findings from reviewing the disparate literature.

Many of us have heard a number of positive anecdotal (or underpowered, small n) successes, positive pilots, but few full-blown psychometric studies on the efficacy of games in learning. In fact, I have not found any commercially available shrink-wrapped math games with associated efficacy studies. I have seen products claiming they are “scientifically-based”, because the product is designed around a number of accepted practices not that their actual efficacies were tested.

While I have personally been focused on the efficacy in K-12 and higher ed, there were also a number of discussions dealing with the same concepts in corporate space. How do we measure the success of our corporate training programs? ROI? So, it seems like efficacy and the ability to measure and monitor success is a common theme and something we need to start incorporating into our designs. Luckily, I think this is solvable once we begin embedding the means to track psychometrically-valid metrics.

So, I walked away from the ALT Summit pretty excited that we had begun a conversation that I think will develop into something revolutionary down the road. I encourage you to keep tuned in and check out NC ALTA.

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