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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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#EdGames : Where Ed Meet Games And Gamers meet Educators

I’ve been toying between the education and games worlds for ever. Really, it’s been years. At the risk of sounding ridiculous – I always played games. And I’ve always learned. Education is probably the later of them all. Had to become a parent to an education-system child to really get into it. But it wasn’t until I saw the conflict in my kids’ lives, between their own passionate interest in both learning and playing games that I realized – these two should go together.

It was about 7 or 8 years ago that my eldest child, a student today, played Maple Story with her classmates. The summer vacation brought it to new heights. They all used English of course, not their mother tongue, to chat with other players and trade goods – and I observed how much they have learned through this process. Maple Story was never designed with education in mind. No ESL thoughts.

During these years I’ve designed an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) twice. But before, during and after I spent tons of time just studying about both game design and education: innovation in education, technology in education, new methodologies, different pedagogic approaches, types of learners, learning disabilities and difficulties, challenging students, classes and learning environments,  different teachers – with teachers needs, abilities, limitations and dreams. I’ve connected with teachers all over the world: US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, France, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Spain – need I go on? There’s one thing in common to all the teachers in my constantly expanding network: they are teachers because they want to teach, and they do no settle for dreaming on improving or changing education – they are actually doing the change, pursuing innovation.

 

There’s an interesting thing that has happened to my game designer friends during the same several years. Lots of them have grown up and mainly became parents. Suddenly – they are also exposed to the urgent need to make something for it, to change, to affect.

I couldn’t be happier standing here right in the crossroad of these two innovative communities. Now I am doing my little thing: I founded #EdGames Meetup, which is designed to be the meeting place between teachers and game designers. Education professionals, and programmers, designers, animators and gamers. It’s an interesting cross and an important one. Too many game designers attempt to create games for education without understanding needs or constraints of the systems and audiences they design for. And too many educators convince themselves they are using games in the classroom when in fact they barely understand true gamification the way it works today. This conversation, this meeting place, is essential if we want to grow and expand the use of games in education and the surrounding industries. It is a challenge, however, to create a meeting place between communities who differ so much from each other. I am lucky to have partnered with the local Game Designers Association, GameIS, where I chair the education committee, and am looking for their support in bringing this new concept to Israel’s game designers.

I started it here, in Israel. I hope to grow it across the world and have more #EdGames meetups all over the world. In the meantime, I announce our monthly meetings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/edtechIS/ and twit under #EdGames and #GBL. You are welcome to join the conversation.

Collaborative Project: Humanity’s Face

There’s a say “when the guns are roaring the muses are quiet”. As if inspiration is out during times of war, when survival is what occupies our minds. Yet, some wonderful works of arts are known to be inspired by or created during war time. I’d like to say that I am inspired by peace, or rather by the hope for peace. My other source of inspiration is the urge to create games. Preferably have one ready in less than 3 months, for when I finish my 1-year game design program. HumanFace

So I came up with an idea to create a peace inspiring game. For this project to happen I need your help. Everybody’s help. I need photographs of faces, portraits of people of any age, color, race and sex. The photo needs to be a head shot only. No background or environment. I don’t need to have a name or any identifiers. Only city/country of residence or nationality. This is going to be a fun and simple look on human faces. Or humanity’s face. Please help me by sending your photos to: le_game@ymail.com and by sharing this post. Thanks.

Global Game Jam 4 Change

I spent the last weekend developing a game at the Global Game Jam 2014 site in Tel-Aviv. The 2nd largest site in the world this year, I can proudly say. It was the 5th GGJ I participated in. It was the also 5th for my son, now 16. Though for him, it was the first time he joined a team (not mine) from start to end. I think that’s a great mother-son experience to share. We are both pretty proud of each other.

The Global Game Jam event is taking place during the same weekend at dozens of sites across the world. Not going into the whole history, the participants are presented with the Jam’s challenge or topic of the year and that starts a fantastic brain storming session – everybody’s trying to come up with an idea for a game. Eventually most attractive ideas get teams formed around them and within 48-72 hours those games take form and can perform.

There were interesting takes from this year’s event.
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One is looking at the number of kids who participated: they are programmers, artists, graphic designers, story tellers, musicians, science enthusiasts and not all of them are gamers. The majority is still boys, not enough girls come in.

But, and here’s the next take, the number of grown up females who took part also grew immensely compared with previous years.882926_471029929686190_1692142279_o

So if I am taking these two random statistics from the 2nd largest GGJ site of 2014, it’s a good projection for the games industry. The more inclusive the industry is, the wider and wilder it gets.
The other take was the growing number of serious games presented. The basic idea of a game is to play it for fun. But Serious Games groups and organizations like Games For Change harness the fun element to achieve serious goals. It’s a relatively new use for games. But I like the fact it is evolving. I admit I am a fan of comedies, but can’t imagine life without some drama, action or documentary, right?
So here’s to the worldwide games industry: may you grow and flourish and surprise us every year.

No Educational Games For Me, Thanks.

As I am recovering from the worst case of flu I have ever encountered I’m beginning to list all those blog posts I cooked in my head for the past two weeks. Over a 26 hour flights schedule home I was contemplating all that I have learned and experienced in the two consecutive conferences I attended in Austin Texas this month: the SXSWedu and the SXSW interactive.

Both conferences offered many events, sessions, workshops, keynotes, parties and shows around the two topics which I find most interesting and relevant these days: educational technology and games. The mix is inevitable, but is also, unfortunately, too often a very disappointing mix.

It’s like every student going to study how to become a teacher is going through a crash course titled “games” which is actually a course in how to try and appeal to your students by trying to talk the kids’ language, the games talk. And so they are trained in taking the boring stuff out of the text books and turning it into a “fun” page, or: take the assignments and try to convert them into something that might fool the kids into thinking the boring set of actions they are required to do is in fact a game.10-04-2013 10-09-58

Kids are no one’s fools, and all those flash card apps are, sorry to say, really, passé. Creating a new game, a real game, which is both fun and educational, is a challenge. And I admit that one of the biggest disappointments at both conferences is that I have met no real innovation: not in education nor in games. Sure, there were some cute ideas. But when a teacher like Lucas Gillispie can take real games, like WOW or Minecraft – and apply them in the classroom, you can’t help wondering why bother developing an “educational game”? What’s the point?

I think the term “educational games” is wrong in its basis. Of course it is the right of those developers in this area to call it this and feel that this is what they do, but as for me, I prefer the term learning game, as a game one might, perhaps, learn from, rather than a game that presumes in can educate, or teach. But then I’ll take learning over education any day.

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

Play More, More Games, For a Better World!

Back after a relatively long vacation, school vacation. Partly used their vacation as my excuse to take some time off for myself too. Well, not entirely off. I’ve been playing games. Actually, we’ve all been busy playing games, trying new games, exchanging gifts and tips, me and my kids. It’s been a lot of fun. At the end of this vacation, their off to school and I have a lot of catching up to do on my reading, writing and following and I have to admit that my game-crave is bugging me. I am beginning to think I am addicted to games.

Looked into addiction to games and found multiple groups of Farmville addicts, several addiction calculators and self-tests, and similar items relating to other games too. Here is a post Michael Arrington wrote about his addiction to Fishville about 4 months ago. Games, especially good ones, are addicting.

I started to take in the claim that games are designed to be addictive. Actually, I am pretty sure they are. Especially those with micro payments built in them. Because even if for some of us it seems completely idiotic to spend a nickel on a virtual sofa, other people do not perceive it as spending money on virtual goods, they see it as spending money on entertainment. It’s like my first online magazine subscription more than a decade ago: I remember thinking “Why is it OK to subscribe to a printed magazine but not to an online one?”. We spend money on movies, and books, cable TV, music and toys, we buy video games DVDs in a shop – so why is spending money on online games so difficult?

I cannot imagine going through a whole day without any play. I open my day with Sudoku. It’s my morning exercise, a sharpener. I might be playing more games then others, trying to figure out how to create my own game, but even without the work necessity, looking around me, are people playing games. Kids, of course, are much more play oriented. Many adults, however, feel ashamed or embarrassed about playing games… “Oh, no, it’s not me playing Farmville, it’s my little son, who has no Facebook account of his own…”. Yea, right.

It’s OK to play!

In fact – “It’s got to be serious if the New York Times puts a cover story of their February 17 Sunday magazine about play. At the bottom of this it says ‘it’s deeper then gender, seriously but dangerously fun, and a sandbox for new ideas about evolution’. Not bad… except if you look at that cover – what’s missing??? You see any adults??”, says Dr. Stuart Brown, a pioneer in research on play from the National Institute for Play in a TED conference about two years ago, just before Farmville broke records.

Then he goes on demonstrating the importance of play in the animal kingdom. It must be an existential factor if you see animals ignore their predator instinct in order to play, just for fun. His description of the hungry bear and the playful dog can take me to so many school yards…

And then yesterday I watch Jesse Schell’s amazing TED\DICE talk again (watch the full talk, I recommend it, or go for the excerpt) – about the invasion of games into our reality. An excellent talk demonstrating our ability to transform any task into a part of a giant game called our life. His ideas are as inspiring as they are crazy. And talking about it with some high-schoolers I know he is right. So really, you should face it: you are playing, whether you like it or not, the only question is are you having fun in the process.

This page linked me to Jane McGonigal’s TED 2010 talk about her belief that we must play more in order to better our world. My feelings exactly!

“My goal for the next decade is to try to make it as easy to save the world in real life as it is to save the world in online games”, she says. She goes on to present the calculation of how many more global hours should be dedicated to playing games and explains:
“Here’s why. This picture pretty much sums up why I think games are so essential to the future survival of the human species. This is a portrait by a photographer named Phil Toledano. … This is a gamer who is on the verge of something called an epic win. An epic win is an outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it. It was almost beyond the threshold of imagination. And when you get there you are shocked to discover what you are truly capable of. That is an epic win. This is a gamer on the verge of an epic win. And this is the face that we need to see on millions of problem-solvers all over the world as we try to tackle the obstacles of the next century. The face of someone who, against all odds is on the verge of an epic win.”

Going back to Dr. Stuart Brown’s presentation I give another look to his slide of the goat: “If you’re having a bad day – try this. Jump up and down, wiggle around, you’re going to feel better”.

Nothing Much.

I’ve been so terribly preoccupied lately I didn’t get a chance to complete any of the blog posts I’ve started to write. Each paragraph bursting out of me in a rage of passion to this topic or that. But then I get all entangled with the actual doings, and the post gets abandoned.

Well not this time. This one is going up.

There is a mix of topics I am dealing with. If an outsider would have looked at my browser windows at any given point of time – they might consider a multiple personality disorder…

At this time, for example, I have a bunch of Facebook games I am trying out. Then several windows explaining about World of Warcraft and how to play it, and an additional bunch of windows all related to the use of World of Warcraft at school. There are many recommendations there. I’d start with Lucas Gillispie’s web site http://edurealms.com/.

Then I have another set of windows open and they relate to the efforts to bring some innovation into education in Israel. There is a list of 29 elementary schools in Israel that are considered “experimental”. 21 high schools and 34 nursery school classes. It’s a drop in the ocean really. Some of the experiments described do not present any education innovation at all. But some do, and I cling to then with hope it may hint of a positive direction.

Seems impossible to be online without some of my favorite networks: at this time it’s firesidelearning.ning.com, where I follow the discussion on NYTimes: “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green and http://rezedhub.ning.com/ where I follow the wow-in-school group http://rezedhub.ning.com/group/wowinschools.

As a side kick I need to check out the weather in far away Thessaloníki in Greece, since my daughter would be traveling there tonight, to participate at a Model UN convention. There are some un-answered email messages about the Eurekamp unconference I am helping to organize. I also have to check out some sources regarding a TV documentary I am planning to do and …oops. My alarm clock just went off. Got to pick up the little one from school. Time for a break.

My Vision For Future of Learning

It’s my first attempt at a video presentation… better will probably follow.

Games are the new School

Games development is slowly becoming a central and one of the largest global industries. Right after our basic human needs, where satisfaction and esteem start, and self-actualization follows, right there you will find games. It’s not news that games promise entertainment, and looking at cubs playing you can easily deduct the relationship between play and development, but it is becoming clearer that games are the key to learning and education.
bear_cubs_playing
There are of course the official “learning games”. A contradiction in term for kids: “You either let me play and have fun or you want me to study. Don’t try to trick me”, would be the kids words, even if not phrased exactly this way.

But as more social aspects get into the game play, the lesser is the need to insert formal learning curriculum into the games.

Every game is a learning game.

Over the past two years I have been researching games for all ages. Trying almost every new game I came across I’ve been having a very good time. I have an accessible focus groups, my own kids, now ages 7, 11 and 15, and they help me understand how the games work for them. There is a constant struggle between the pure fun time and the school-homework time. Most of the time they do not neglect their school obligations, but I can’t say that the afternoon school time is very obviously contributing more to their learning than the games they play.

To count just a few of the skills they have developed through online games – written verbal communications, social skills, languages (our first language is Hebrew, but in all games the communications are in English, normally begun at 2nd grade), strategic thinking and planning, design, math, memory, self management under stress, commercial and negotiations abilities, persistence and more.

Those game skills have contributed a lot to their school performance. Higher grades in English and math, better understanding and commendable discussions in history classes, improved memory in text based tests, better technical performance and computer command, and great social skills, including the ability to negotiate local peace agreements…

I am a very proud mother but I am not talking only about my kids. These skills are showing up clearly with any kids who play more online games. Observing a class or groups of kids it is easy to detect who is more exposed than others to such games.

The mix of games and education is not new, but the balance is changing. How to mix the two today, that is the question. How best use the need for games and entertainment to improve learning skills and acquire knowledge and education, and how to turn studies into a lot more fun?

Many teachers have been doing it for years: Developing fun activities in the classroom. In the recent years, however, more educators are exposed to the new digital possibilities, such as online games. The question is: can existing games be used for the school curriculum or do game developers need to create new games, according to this curriculum.

I believe a new path has to be created. A middle one. One that would enable adoption of existing games with minor modification to school curriculum, while at the same time, adopting the school curriculum to the games reality.

And this is not only because the games reflect a new reality.

More reading on the subject:
Games Learning Society Conference
Education and Learning Commons
The European ARGuing (Alternate Reality Game) project

Brainstorming with my daughter

I love brainstorming. This is really one of the best ways to achieve results. I encourage brainstorming in all levels of the organization, for many types of questions or problems. Being a self employed independent consultant I don’t have co-workers to brainstorm with, but I often brainstorm with my clients or with other, third parties, involved in the service rendered.

When it comes to my startup-idea, I didn’t really know who I can brainstorm with. I don’t have any partners, yet. Surely enough no co-workers. My husband, chief brainstormer, doesn’t posses enough knowledge of this industry to help here. It’s been staring me in the face for so long, that I don’t understand how only last night I realized it:

My 13 year old daughter is the best brainstormer for this project! She has been the chief inspiration for the project, so why not brainstorm with her?

For the past several weeks I have been the coolest mom ever for my kids, while I introduced them every other day to a new web site with games, networking or virtual worlds. I collected their impressions, and sometimes their friends’ impressions, like a spontaneous, accessible, focus group. Based on these impressions and my own research I started to create a document describing the system I am planning to create. But something was missing all this time.

Yesterday, while she was dragging me to work out, walking around the neighborhood streets, I asked her if she would like to hear what I am working on. While I started to describe the project she contributed her feedback, which evolved into ideas. My concept is different from all major sites so you have to be a flexible and creative thinker.

mother and daughter

I was impressed by her ability to think marketing, communications and to suggest technical features. Like a good brainstorming session it evolved to a ping-pong. Her being a 13 year old girl, without any hi-tech experience, only contributed.

When we got home we both concluded that it was a very good workout…

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