Game of Clones?


Oregon Trail – circa 1990

Having attended a serious games conference last week, I’m going to list my likes, concerns and suggestions for the folks working in the industry, and those who are seeking to buy games for learning.  Overall, I fear a game of clones is afoot.

The industry:  What I mean by this is the array of companies that are catering to the needs of educational, corporate, military, healthcare, non-profits and others, seeking to design and deliver game-based experiences that advance relevant learning for included stakeholder groups.

What?!  (Jargon meter pegs to 10…)


Game-based experiences:  These can be board games, mobile games, desktop computer games, or headset (VR) games that serve as a part or whole of a learning-related design.

Relevant learning:  The game helps players uncover, challenge, and integrate new knowledge that is helpful to them in their context.

Stakeholder groups:  This would include employees, customers, partner institutions, or members of the general public, who all have some part to play in the value chain of the company or institution in question.

LIKES:  There are are a number of good things that are evident in the sessions and through examples of the work that various providers are creating:

  • Integrating design thinking:  There is some awareness building of doing a better job of ’empathizing’ with eventual users of the game / service / product in question.  While this can slow the process down, sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.
  • Mixing realities:  There are some excellent examples of games created that cause people to visit and/or interact with real spaces, people and objects.  I think this is a productive trend as it has the potential to bring learners into exercising curiosity practically – in other words, there is the possibility of integrating the real world into the game play scenario for faster transfer of learning into practical application.  Whenever we can make people curious about the content and matters at hand, that’s a good thing.
  • Incorporating stories:  We all intuitively know the power of a good story, and there is good reason to believe that well designed stories will promote longer-term memory.  Plus the story gives meaningful context and provides a great structure for an episodic approach to the game.  Think of Oregon Trail.
  • Increasing sophistication:  There is some indication of a general increase, to my mind, of sophistication in thinking about the role of games, design dimensions of the game experience, and the mapping of that experience to a larger flow of learning.  This is a good thing.


  • Assuming game designers are good at design thinking:  This is a problem that has been brought forward recently; that design thinking is both a process and a discipline that leverages truly creative thinking.  I fear that there may be a broad dehydration of the depth of the process and intolerance of the perceived inefficiencies.  Not everyone is a designer.  Designing well takes time.
  • A lack of critical analysis of the research on learning and transfer of knowledge.  Some game developers are wrapped around the interaction (as they call it), mimicking real-world assembly of objects, for example.  Current technologies do not even come close to approximating the haptic (felt) reality of moving physical pieces.  I think this is faulty thinking – that simply moving a virtual gear onto a spindle with VR controllers will give the learner a full and transferable appreciation of what that entails.
  • Games for good are waning:  I did not see many  (any?) examples of games built to help address core social, economic and environmental issues facing our nation and planet.  Games are uniquely situated (as a methodology) to involve people in these epic battles.   Just ask Jane McGonigal.
  • Money.  Money.  Money.  Some presentations for the K-12 sector were made by private school teachers or companies that cater to specific schools that can afford their products.  While it’s wonderful to see the amazing use of context-aware, mobile, augmented-reality gaming to bring local history and a fictional story together, the entire process was funded by kids whose parents forked out over $30,000 a year (in tuition only).  This is particularly concerning.  I would like to see the very best educational experiences provided to all students.


  • Serious Game designers – take the course on Design Thinking, if you haven’t.  Integrate that into your workflow.
  • US Dept of Public Instruction – divert attention away from advancing the charter / private school voucher agenda, and put money into game development for all curricula (not just STEM).
  • Beware of fidelity trap:  there is a strong attraction to creating visually (and aurally) high-fidelity worlds.  There is, however, some good research that indicates that not everything needs to be so.  Just look at Minecraft for a great example of low-fidelity, high-engagement design.  This falls into the realm of ‘just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.’

If we don’t pay attention, we could fall into the trap of creating clones of game-based experiences that emphasize the wrong points of focus, miss the mark on content and interaction, cost too much, and only serve a particular segment of the population.

Let’s create better games for everyone!

Posted in Education, Technology | Leave a comment

Pre-Fascism in the US


Featured at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington DC

The warning signs abound: Polarization of society; militarization of the police forces; nationalistic policies;  criminalization of minorities and immigrants;  melding of extremist religious views with political discourse and policy-making; the dismantling of social welfare programs.  The list probably goes on.

Terry Gross conducted a fascinating interview with Gabriel Sherman, a Vanity Fair reporter and author of The Loudest Voice in the Room, a biography of Roger Ailes, former CEO and Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television Stations.

Have a listen here:

Meanwhile, Fintan O’Toole of the Irish Times characterizes this time in American history as a series of trial-runs of fascism.

This is indeed a time in which deep reflection and questioning is called for – questioning of the news sources we trust, the politicians we have elected, and the values we uphold and how we uphold them.  Ultimately, I believe this is going to have to be answered with compassion paired with strong civil disobedience.

We need compassion to understand those who disagree with us and what their stories are, and we will need to tap into that fine, patriotic history of implementing civil disobedience to disrupt the pre-fascist flow, and to bring forward the voices calling for a return to deeply held values around justice and equality for all.

As O’Toole concludes:

Millions and millions of Europeans and Americans are learning to think the unthinkable. So what if those black people drown in the sea? So what if those brown toddlers are scarred for life? They have already, in their minds, crossed the boundaries of morality. They are, like Macbeth, “yet but young in deed”. But the tests will be refined, the results analysed, the methods perfected, the messages sharpened. And then the deeds can follow.

In the spirit of forming the more perfect union….

Posted in Ramblings | Leave a comment

Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1]

Julian Stodd – a great thinker, author and instigator – has a bead on how organizations must reflect the context of the ecosystem in which they operate.   I see this as a logical extension of the invention, dissemination and adoption of internet-based technologies.  Some time ago we saw the shift from consumerism of online content, for example, to democratized production and contribution of the same.  Readers became authors.

Have a read – I think you, like me, will be excited by Julian’s ideas.

via Ecosystem change & Organisational Design [part 1]

Quote | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Total Disruption in Learning and Development! (maybe not)

I subscribe to a number of education-related publications, and there is currently a stylistic approach across many of them (and, generically, in the popular media) of relying upon sensationalism and hyperbole to drive heart rates up, in hopes of garnering interest (and of course the related retweets, likes and shares) around whatever the latest amazing technology is.

Lately, the frenzy has been around artificial intelligence (AI) and mixed realities (VR, AR, etc.), with various Paul Reveres signaling the end of the world as we know it.   This almost entirely positive spin rarely addresses the needs of ALL people, however.  National Public Radio reviewed an article by Pearson Education and posited a more circumspect view when it comes to AI in education:

So one great fear when it comes to the Pearson vision of AIEd is that we reproduce existing inequalities. Some students get individualized attention from highly skilled human teachers who use the best learning software available to inform their practice. Other students get less face time with lower-skilled teachers plus TutorBots that imperfectly simulate human interaction.

This is of critical importance, and I will be addressing this notion of equity in access in other postings.  But for now, let’s just try to calm down, and remember that some good folk have gone before us, and that some principles endure.

At this point in my life and career, I’ve seen a number of ed tech trends and have watched as some have grandstanded about the imminent revolution these technologies would bring. Remember educational television (beamed into classrooms)?  Remember e-learning?  Remember the learning management system?  Remember the MOOC?

I think it’s useful to learn from those that have gone before us – occasionally debunking some sketchy ideas while also building on the good ones.  Here are just a few good starting points that give us some comfort in knowledge from the past, and some guidance for how we avoid hyperbolizing:

  • Einstein, 1930:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

    Albert_Einstein   ken-robinson

Sir Ken Robinson has also expounded on the importance of imagination; and as we look to a new wave of technological innovation, we will need this more than ever – especially as we are faced with entire populations of people that will need to learn new skills.

  • Dewey, 1930:  “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.”


John Dewey – A bright light in the development of learning theories very early on talked about the opportunity for learning from failure.  Today we are hearing quite a bit about this, typically framed in a conversation about innovation, and this has always been a feature of good simulations.  It is also worth noting Dewey’s phrase “…person who really thinks…”.  This simply reinforces the need to provide space for reflection and honest assessment.

  • Freire, 1970:  “Education [is]… the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”


Transformation is everywhere, according to some.  This too, is nothing particularly new, but one could argue that it is accelerating as the global connective tissue of the internet, culture and economies strengthens and expands.  Relevant question for today:  What are we doing to provide education that emphasizes critical thinking and provides individual agency as digital transformation occurs?

  • Knowles, 1980: “… learning activities will be based on the real needs and interests of the participants…”


I’ve seen a number of recent posts and webinar advertisements for discussions of ‘adult learning‘.  I’ve always questioned this over-emphasis on differentiating adult from child learning.  Having taught everyone from 6 year olds to 60 year olds, I can tell you that there is just not that much difference!  However, this principle shared by Knowles will always be central to good education design.

  • Jonassen, 2000:  “Mindtools are knowledge construction tools that learners learn with, not from.”


Jonassen, a constructivist, pointed out the proper view we should take on using technology to facilitate learning – that ‘mindtools’ as he called them (computers, and digital resources) should be used to help learners creatively explore an area of study or interest.  We’ve seen, I think, an over-emphasis on using digital tools to create and push content, rather than providing tools that help learners capture, edit, create and share their own.

Warning:  Anytime you hear someone talking about ‘consuming content‘, that should raise a flag in your mind about the underlying role that is assumed of the learners in question, and whether or not there is a potential recreation at hand of the ancient idea of dumping knowledge into brains.

So:  Let’s relax just a bit, and maybe hesitate before we ‘consume’ that latest super-tasty hyper-urgent, hyperbolic declaration of imminent radical change.  With a bit of reflection, we may realize that some time-tested truths will remain, and that our critical review will help us build more, and possibly even better, future applications of technology in learning.

Posted in Education, Technology | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

AI-ming at the enemy

Last year Google used its AI ‘Deep Mind’ to create a simple game called ‘Gathering’.  The object is to gather more apples than your opponent.  They gave the AI the ability, however, to stun their opponent with a laser.  Watch what happens:

To me, this is an artificial manifestation of very human responses in a world of perceived scarcity.  It is worth considering Sendhil Mullainathan’s work (Harvard) on this topic, and his and Eldar Shafir’s book Scarcity:  The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives.

It is also eerily predictable that the greater the scarcity, and the more “intelligent” the AI, the more often lasers were used in gameplay.  There is logically a competitive standard in this game – the ‘win state’ is determined, and that is the goal.  Therefore the machine will take whatever logical steps it can to achieve that state.  This is something I’ve often thought about when working with leaders in organizations:  To what extent are leaders ‘playing a game of competition’ – in all aspects of their work?

In a world of constant competition for (perceived) scarce resources, what really happens to collaboration and mutual benefit?

I do wonder if artificially intelligent companions (as they are coming into play, now) and systems will learn this mindset of individualized win-states from their human counterparts, and what that may end up doing to human-machine (and human/human) relations and the possibility of abundant, shared prosperity.

Posted in Ramblings, Technology | Leave a comment

Starbucks and the impact of implicit bias training

File 20180527 51135 1wt70gl.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Employees of Starbucks Coffee in the United States and Canada will receive “implicit bias” training.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Western University

On Tuesday, Starbucks stores in the United States will close for part of the day to deliver “implicit bias training” for all of its employees. Canadian Starbucks employees will get similar training June 11.

Whether you have heard of implicit or unconscious biases through Starbucks’ recent controversy or as a topic in the 2016 U.S. presidential debates, the topic of implicit bias seems like it is everywhere.

We are all familiar with the concept of explicit biases. These include attitudes and behaviours regarding certain groups with the intent to harm or exclude. Explicit biases can be obvious, such as racism or believing one ethnic group is superior to another. They can also be subtler, like favouring someone we know.

These explicit biases are conscious, intentional and deliberate.

In contrast, implicit biases are stereotypes that form through our experiences and that work outside of our awareness. Even though we are not aware of them, implicit biases lead to discriminatory behaviours and biased decisions.

Implicit biases can also include non-verbal behaviours or avoidance. By their very nature, implicit biases are automatic beliefs or associated behaviours that influence us without our knowledge and despite our best intentions.

Implicit bias is harmful

Starbucks’ baristas are not the only workers who demonstrate implicit bias.

When individuals with “Black-sounding names” applied for jobs compared to individuals with “white-sounding names,” the people with white names received 50 per cent more callbacks. In another study, psychologists who were applying for jobs found that out of two identical CVs, one would be rated more positively if it was attached to the name Brian compared to the name Karen.

Research on implicit bias in health care has demonstrated how health professionals can make biased clinical decisions, even when their intentions are to treat all groups fairly.

For example, an important study by doctor Alexander Green and his colleagues in 2007 found that despite explicitly denying a preference for white versus Black patients, doctors implicitly saw Black patients as less co-operative regarding medical procedures. Those doctors who demonstrated increased levels of implicit biases were more likely to treat their white patients over treating Black patients for their heart attacks.

Similar research has found that implicit biases contribute to racial disparities in pain treatment and adversely influence several patient populations.

Read more:
Racism impacts your health

We also know that implicit biases lead to behaviour that undermines trust. Groups that experience discrimination experience a profound negative effect which leads to self-reinforcing cycles of distancing and disconnection.

Individuals who encounter implicit biases can gradually internalize them and this leads members of certain marginalized groups to begin to conform to negative biases about themselves.

Bias training for all?

So should we all follow Starbucks’ lead and implement implicit bias training in our organizations?

Protesters gather outside a Starbucks in Philadelphia in April after two Black men were arrested after Starbucks employees called police to say the men were trespassing. The arrest prompted accusations of racism and led to Starbucks bringing in anti-bias training programs for all of its employees in the United States and Canada.
(AP Photo/Ron Todt)

While implicit bias is a problem that erodes equity and perpetuates discrimination, research on implicit bias training highlights mixed results and suggests that implicit bias training alone will not solve the problem.

My research on implicit bias in health professions sought to understand how this training works. Early in our journey, we learned that simply making individuals aware of their implicit biases was not enough.

When our participants became aware of their biases through an online metric of implicit bias called the implicit association test (IAT), developed by researchers at Harvard, it led to significant emotional distress and a defensive reaction.

A hard look in the mirror can hurt

We were surprised to find that when we provided people with feedback about their implicit biases, this information was inconsistent with an idealized version of themselves that was simply impossible to achieve.

Societal pressures and stigma against being prejudiced led to individuals feeling like they are not allowed to have any bias, despite the fact that we all have biases, and not all biases can be eliminated. In fact, some biases may be helpful to keep us safe.

Implicit bias training is therefore unique from other forms of diversity training because a conversation on implicit bias must start with a hard look in the mirror. The conversation can only begin once we humble ourselves by recognizing that we are all deeply flawed and imperfect human beings.

Training can be most effective when there is a balance between psychological safety and motivation to change behaviour.

Knowing and reflecting

Simply knowing about our biases is not enough. Once we become aware of our own biases, we must reflect on how these biases impact ourselves and others.

Discussion and dialogue are both important to reflect on how certain biases may be negative or positive and useful or counterproductive, depending on context. Then, we must begin to set and practise tangible changes in our explicit behaviours.

Research has shown that implicit bias in the health care system has led to different treatments for Black and white patients with the same symptoms.

For example, our research found that physicians and nurses often have implicit biases towards individuals with mental illness who come into emergency departments because these health professionals label such patients as “unfixable,” and implicitly avoid them because they do not feel like they can offer their patients any assistance.

The patients, however, perceived this implicit avoidance as prejudice and discrimination. Our initial training highlighted these biases for doctors and nurses but also promoted explicitly and intentionally engaging with such patients to counter the tendency to avoid them.

We also learned that accomplishing change requires dialogue to reconcile our biases and open conversations with our peers can help motivate us to change behaviour.

Learning together

Interventions to reduce the adverse impact of bias are most effective when people who work together learn together, and when teams feel comfortable being open about their biases with one another.

Our training was most effective when it was accompanied with constant discussion and dialogue among people who work together. Individuals who participated in the training began questioning biased practices and demonstrating new behaviours which provided a model for others in the workplace to emulate.

Another challenge with implementing bias training is that biases and inequities often become embedded in workplace structures and policies over time. In our most recently published paper, we followed participants for 12 months after they participated in implicit bias training.

Initially, these participants told us that they enjoyed learning about their biases and wanted to change, but any change they promoted went up against a workplace culture that was a barrier to change.

As we followed them over time, participants began reflecting on their biases and engaging in explicit behavioural changes that influenced the perception of structural changes within the learning environment itself. Together, our participants began co-constructing social change.

This finding is important because addressing implicit bias cannot be achieved by individuals alone. Explicit structural and organizational changes are also required to promote change.

If we encourage individuals to question biased norms within their workplace but they speak up and face retribution for doing so, we are creating more problems than we are solving. If any company wants implicit bias training to be successful, the company itself must survey its policies and processes and be prepared to change them.

The ConversationIf your company decides to implement implicit bias training, make sure you ask them what else they plan on doing to promote equity and reduce discrimination. Shutting stores or implementing mandatory training will simply not be enough.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, Assistant Professor, Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Psychiatry, Western University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

| Leave a comment

People who live in diverse neighbourhoods are more helpful – here’s how we know

The Conversation – April 16, 2018


File 20180412 554 1j02cy.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Jayanth Narayanan, IMD Business School

Whether or not diversity is a good thing is still a topic of much debate. Though many businesses tout the benefits of diversity, American political scientist Robert Putnam holds that diversity causes people to hunker down, creating mistrust in communities.

Empirical investigations into how diversity affects communities are too few and far between to provide any definitive answer to the question. So, together with colleagues in Singapore and the US, we set out to examine this very question in a series of studies – the results of which were recently published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

There is indeed evidence that diversity creates mistrust in communities. But diverse communities also provide an opportunity for people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come into contact with each other, and we thought that these experiences would create a positive effect on people’s identities: specifically, the extent to which they identify with humanity, as a whole.

A human connection

This is one of the biggest and broadest forms of identity, which a human being can comprehend. A number of spiritual and philosophical traditions have upheld that believing you share a fundamental connection with other human beings – regardless of race, religion, sexuality or gender – is the sign of a mature mind.

My colleagues and I thought that living in diverse neighbourhoods might create opportunities to come into contact with different people again and again, thereby expanding a person’s sense of identity. As a result, people living in diverse neighbourhoods should be more helpful towards others. We examined this possibility in five empirical studies.

Lending a hand.
Wonderwoman0731/Flickr, CC BY

In the first study, we took to Twitter to analyse the sentiments of tweets across the 200 largest metropolitan areas in the US. This was a somewhat basic, exploratory test of our hypothesis, using a large sample of data. In this study, we found that the likelihood that a tweet mentions words which suggest positivity, friendliness, helpfulness, or social acceptance was higher in a more diverse city.

Opening up

Encouraged by our findings, we then sought to examine how diversity of a zip code where people lived might affect people’s likelihood to offer help in the aftermath of a disaster, such as a terrorist attack. We used data from a website that the Boston Globe set up, where people could offer help to those stranded after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.

After accounting for factors such as distance from the bombings, political diversity, religious diversity and the mean household income of these zip codes, we found that people who lived in more racially diverse zip codes were more likely to offer help to those in need after the bombings.

To take our investigation even further, we examined whether people living in more diverse countries would report that they had helped someone in the recent past. We used data from the Gallup World Poll in 2012, which asked more than 155,000 individuals in 146 countries to report whether they had helped a stranger in the recent past. Again, we found that people in more diverse countries were more likely to report that they had helped a stranger in the past month.

Expanding identities

These three studies seemed to provide converging evidence for our ideas, but we needed to understand whether this was because diversity expands people’s identities. From a scientific standpoint, this presented a big challenge. It would almost be impossible to conduct a real experiment where we allocate people to live in different neighbourhoods and then check whether this had an effect on their level of helpfulness.

A friendly face.
blue.bone/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

So instead we borrowed a technique routinely used by social psychologist, called priming. Priming is a psychological method, used to activate a state of mind for people in an experiment. We primed people to think about neighbourhoods that were either diverse, or not. We made this allocation randomly, then examined how this affected their willingness to help.

We also measured whether this simple procedure of priming also altered their identities. We used a survey measure developed by other psychologists, which measures how much someone identifies with all of humanity. In two studies, we found that imagining living in a diverse neighbourhood expanded people’s identities, which in turn made them more willing to help a stranger.

These results don’t prove definitively that diversity is always a good thing. But they do offer an encouraging view of some of the benefits which diversity might bring to communities, given the way that people’s identities shift when they often encounter those who are different to them.

Some governments are already putting policies in place to make the most of these potential benefits. For example, in Singapore, each public housing apartment block maintains the same ratio of Chinese, Malay and Indian residents as exists in the wider population. This has prevented segregation and created diversity in neighbourhoods, which has led to a better society for everyone.

The ConversationIn ancient Indian texts, sages exhort people to view the whole world as one family. Our studies show that this isn’t a pipe dream – it’s a real possibility.

Jayanth Narayanan, Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Leadership, IMD Business School

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

| Leave a comment