Parallel processing and Pac-Man

I remember that I used to be good at Pacman. I played it three or four times a week at least on an arcade game in our local sports centre. I used to have the networks of paths and opportunities nailed: I knew in what order to eat each dot and when to eat the super, flashing dot which would unleash my super-powers and allow me to gorge on ghosts.

I played it again for the first time in about thirty years this week here: I missed the ‘wakawakawakawaka’ sound as Pacman ate the dots for starters and I was awful at controlling Pacman with the cursor keys. I kept over-shooting turns and not turning away from the ghosts quickly enough.

This are attempts three and four:

Multiple attempts beyond this didn’t lead to game-play which was very much better.

Thirty years on, then, and all my knowledge and skill about the game are gone. However, on reading the chapter “Video Games” from Greenfield’s ‘Mind and media: the effects of television, video games and computers’, I realise that, perhaps, I never was really very good at Pacman. For example, I never appreciated that ‘Each monster has its own characteristic behavior’ (p.99); I was so busy focusing on ‘me’/Pac-Man that I wasn’t able to note and analyse the ghosts’/monsters’ behaviour. I also didn’t recognise that ‘The relative speeds of the monsters and Pac-Man are different in different parts of the maze’ (p.100). My parallel processing skills, which Greenfield defines as ‘taking in information from several sources simultaneously’ (p.101) are lacking now and, it would appear, weren’t much better when I was a child playing the game in the arcade. When I play now and, I guess, when I played then, I am/was ‘watching Pac-Man’s behaviour alone’ (p.102) and therefore failed to appreciate the ‘interacting dynamic variables’ (p.102) of Pac-Man.

Greenfield’s analysis of computer games is fascinating as an historic snapshot of a response to the nascent medium of computer games. I am probably  around the same age as Mark, Greenfield’s son (however, I was never able to complete a Rubik’s Cube.) We take for granted, now, the fact that we are afforded a participatory role in visually dynamic media but Greenfield highlights the fact that video games were ‘the first medium’ (p.90) to afford us this possibility.  In terms of the appeal and popularity of games, Greenfield cites Malone, who ‘found that the presence of a goal was the single most important factor in determining the popularity of games’ (p.91). It will be interesting, as we progress through this course to ascertain whether this is still the case: what other factors now impact on a game’s appeal? Malone’s exploration of violence and the gender disparities between the appeal of ‘aggressive fantasy’ (p.94) are also considered. Again, thirty two years on, what evidence is there on the impact of solitary, ‘violent’ gaming on individuals (compare ‘Darts’ with ‘Call of Duty’!). Transfer is key here: what negatives and positives from the gaming experience have an impact beyond the world of the game? Another observation which is pertinent is Greenfield’s reference to Eric Wanner, who had ‘suggested that video games could be much more interesting if they provided for creation’. The popularity of games such as Minecraft (and The Sims, Second Life and Little Big World) suggests that the appeal of creation is, indeed, a powerful factor in determining the appeal of games. Finally, and reflecting Karen’s musings on gaming and addiction, I thought that this was a pertinent insight: ‘Perhaps the most valuable thing we can learn is not how to make the games less addictive but how to make other learning experiences, particularly school, more so.’ (p112).


Greenfield, P.M., (1984) “Video Games” from Greenfield, Patricia Marks, Mind and media: the effects of television, video games and computers pp.86-114
Malone, T., (1981) “What Makes Things Fun to Learn? A Study of Intrinsically Motivating Computer Games”, Cognitive Science (5) 333-370
Wanner, E., (1982) “Computer Time: The Electronic Boogey-man,” Psychology Today (16) 8-11

Back to SL

We revisited Second Life this week for an informal tutorial about the course. Some interesting discussions about what counts as gaming and play:

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Does SL count as a game? Lots of people would think it does, even after you explain what it is.

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: How does it work in Minecradt Noreen?

[03:50] Simone Carlberg: I don’t think it does

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Agree with better than minecraft, the little I’ve seen of minecraft

[03:50] Simone Carlberg: Not that I’ve discovered yet

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: Good question.  It is not a game.  It is just an environment.

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But then that is preference isn’t it

[03:50] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): ?

[03:50] Kimberley Pascal: In which games *could* be played, of course.

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But people perceive it to be one when I say waht I doing.

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: I find I can’t make an impact on this environment in the way I can in Minecraft

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Bit like WOW

[03:51] AMAPnotwithabrush: i went on an archaeological dig once…it was a sort of game

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: The building is too complex

[03:51] Kimberley Pascal: Games need rules.

[03:51] AMAPnotwithabrush: (in SL)

[03:51] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): But the world has rules

[03:51] Simone Carlberg: Even if they are just material ones like where you can place blocks?

[03:51] Kimberley Pascal: Oh yes.  There can be games *in* SL.

[03:52] Kimberley Pascal: And you don;t *need* to play in WoW.  You can just hand out.

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: Maybe ‘play’ is the key word there

[03:52] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): I like the profession side of WOW

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: If you can ‘play’ in any sense it’s a game

[03:52] Kimberley Pascal: But the “game”(WoW) will kill you if you don;t respond to the challenges it throws at you.

[03:52] Simone Carlberg: Building stuff in Miencraft is playing for me

[03:52] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Pottering round mining, ignoring all the weird monsters and sticking to the edges

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: Yes, that’s me

[03:53] Kimberley Pascal: I guess.

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Fishing

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: That’s why I like to play in Creative mode – so I don’t get killed as Hamish says

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): Ahh

[03:53] AMAPnotwithabrush: you can be killed?

[03:53] Kimberley Pascal: But yes, trying to define “game” and “play” is key here.

[03:53] Greg Zeilik (robbastin): haven’t tried that

[03:53] Simone Carlberg: We’re in creative mode in Minecraft in this module Rob

[03:53] SilverbackGrump: I’m looking forward to playin WoW – havn’t tried it yet. I have a reference point from childhood – used to play Dungeons and Dragons ON PAPER!

[03:54] AMAPnotwithabrush: do you “get more lives next time” or if you’re killed, that’s it?

Passionate players

At the start of this week and the start of this course, I was in a school in Scarborough, working with a fascinating Network Manager. He’d studied theology at uni, taught RE in schools and then began to get more involved in network management. He now does that and teaches IT too. He’s also a minister.

We were chatting over lunch and I mentioned that I was starting on this course and that a key element would be playing and thinking about World of Warcraft. And that’s when he really lit up. He’d been a passionate gamer for ten years (before his daughter was born) and he loved WoW. He talked about spending 12 hours preparing for a raid, about the relationships and skills which were developed through play. Mentoring was key – bringing on the younger and more inexperienced players, and he believed that his management skills were honed In WoW too. He spoke about the relationships which had been formed in WoW and which had extended into RL: he’s still in touch with many of the gamers he used to play with. One anecdote he told me related to Eve. A fellow player was terminally ill and, when he could no longer participate in RL, he could still ‘live’ and ‘function’ in the game. When he died, a memorial service was held in the game and a stone placed in his memory which was engraved with his avatar name. I found this moving and fascinating, particularly the notion of ‘living in the game’. Ideas which were explored in IDEL about the self and where ‘it’ ‘is’ when we are online/gaming/playing/reading began to re-emerge. When I mentioned this encounter in the Introductions forum, Hamish provided this link. What it has to say about experiential learning is fascinating:

Gaming tends to be regarded as a harmless diversion at best, a vile corruptor of youth at worst. But the usual critiques fail to recognize its potential for experiential learning. Unlike education acquired through textbooks, lectures, and classroom instruction, what takes place in massively multiplayer online games is what we call accidental learning. It’s learning to be – a natural byproduct of adjusting to a new culture – as opposed to learning about.


‘Learning to be’ – experiential learning – is a core notion to explore in relation to gaming and particularly to gaming technologies such as VR and AR. The article also has something interesting to say about failure, one of my ‘chosen’ themes:

Where traditional learning is based on the execution of carefully graded challenges, accidental learning relies on failure. Virtual environments are safe platforms for trial and error. The chance of failure is high, but the cost is low and the lessons learned are immediate.

Games provide a safe, no/low risk environment in which to fail. The consequences of failure have no (or little) RL implications or consequences and therefore risk-taking is, paradoxically, pretty much risk-free.

In terms of the focus of this course, this is another key observation from the article:

Once the experience is explicitly educational, it becomes about developing compartmentalized skills and loses its power to permeate the player’s behavior patterns and worldview.

Does accidental learning, rather than explicit education, ultimately have more impact? When thinking about using games/developing games for education, should the focus be on providing immersive, wide-ranging social experiences in a range of virtual contexts?

Like my game-playing, my blogging is rusty, so there’s no neat conclusion to be arrived at just yet. Just lots of questions to consider as the course progresses.

So long…

“So, I guess that’s why I’m here. I want to be able to reflect on my own practice. I want to work with others to discuss what educational technology and digital education mean. I also want to reflect on what is seemingly mundane – a picture being shared on Facebook – and see that, once again, for the complex and vital interchange which it really is.”

My stated aims and objectives, outlined at the start of our IDEL studies seem, on reflection, modest in comparison with what we’ve experienced in the last 12 weeks or so. We have achieved so much more than reflection and discussion. I have…

  • been introduced to new ways of thinking about digital education;
  • read…and read…and read…;
  • experienced new ways of communicating, interacting and learning;
    Voice tutorial_017
  • created teaching and learning artefacts using new tools;
    new tools
  • experienced ontological uncertainty;
  • come first…
    Moodle badge
  • …twice;
    Linkedin 1
  • …reinvigorated my own practice;
  • …made new connections;

…and much more. I have found the IDEL course challenging, exhilarating and enlightening. I have recognised how stale and static my own thinking and practice had become and, through our readings, our discussions, the tasks and, importantly, my blogging, I have reset my own professional mindset.

My journey as a learner has led me to reflect on the journeys the students and teachers I work with are on when it comes to understanding, seeing the value in, and using educational technologies. The ‘loop input’ design of the course has enabled us to experience what it is to study online, to use different media and to learn, communicate and create using new technologies and tools.

My thinking about technology and its role within education has changed over the course of this term. I used to, somewhat unthinkingly, refer to technology as a tool which was there to support teaching and learning; the pedagogy had primacy and the technology was a medium for delivery. However, the experience I have had of studying educational technology through educational technologies is – of course – very different to that which I would have had had technology been absent from the process. As Cousin asserts, ‘technologies work dynamically with pedagogies, not for them’ (Cousin, 2005, p.118); this renewed awareness has impacted on my professional approaches to thinking about technology adoption and training. I have changed the way that I talk with teachers about technology and its role within schools, highlighting that the digital medium is vital, it has impact on how we teach and how we learn and it is not ‘in service’ (Cousin, 2005, p.117) to our practice. I have also developed more coherent responses to educators who retreat into the safety of the digital native/immigrant binary which is, I believe, a damaging dichotomy. Helsper and Eynon’s separation of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ has proven to be a useful distinction to make when discussing these issues with staff.

I have learned about and experienced the co-creation of learning spaces, of learning experiences and of effective communities of inquiry. I have been part of the ‘social brain’ of the IDEL course, and, as I noted in Week 3:

“…this social brain is one of the real benefits of online learning. In a classroom, exchanges can be transient and lost; online, we have a record of contributions, references, links and ideas. We are developing a learning text, a multi-modal, multi-authored sociotechnological educational space across a multitude of online places.

lord-acton-historian-quote-learn-as-much-by-writing-as-byThis blog has captured some of the essence of the broader learning text which we have co-authored on the IDEL course through Moodle discussions, Skype conversations, Twitter exchanges, Second Life experiences and more. It has also allowed me to reflect in a quieter, slower way on the ideas, readings, tools and practices we have been introduced to and worked with. It is a space which has offered me a place to test new technologies, work out my ideas and play with my thoughts.

Although my writing has improved in recent months, I’m still no good at endings. I am, however, good at quoting other people who are much cleverer than me. I started with Douglas Adams all those weeks ago, so I’ll end with him here.

so long

Cousin, G. (2005). Learning from cyberspace in Land, R. and Bayne, S. (eds) Education in cyberspace. London, Routledge-Falmer. pp.117-129.


Potential research ideas

Rory suggested that it was worthwhile posting some potential research ideas this week so that they are not lost as we move on from the course.

There are a number of areas of interest for me. One in particular is looking at how we can effectively introduce and embed new technologies within schools. How do we use our understanding of, amongst other things,  presence, embodiment, synchronous vs. asynchronous media and creating effective learning communities to ensure that new technologies are valued and adopted effectively within teaching and learning practices?

Although I’m tackling it to a degree in my assignment, I’m also interested in exploring digital literacies within schools and how we can both ensure that learners acquire the appropriate skills and how we can use digital media more effectively within core teaching and learning practice.

Nebulous, unwieldy ideas currently but ones which may, as I progress through the Masters, develop some form and substance.



I am writing this in here:


Gillams is my little sanctuary; it’s a family run vegetarian café in my town. Doug and Shirley who run it have two very successful musical daughters, Jess and Patsy. I come here a couple of time a week: it offers respite from the confines of my office at home. It’s a dreadful day here in Cumbria. Storm Desmond has hit and there are floods all around. However, I’m cosied up next to the open fire and there are carols playing in the background. It’s lovely.

This is a space where I can think differently and I often come here to read and write. I’d never really reflected on why I escaped to this place so often, other than attributing it to the need to have a ‘change of scene’ after hours at my desk. The readings this week offered me the opportunity to assess this in a little more detail and reflect on how we can find or create ‘the time to look and think’ (Levy, 2007, p.237) in our ‘always on’ digital lives.

Get on your bike

I grew up in a family and in a wider culture which valued work; my family have (or rather had) a Calvinistic work ethic and my adolescence was spent in Thatcher’s Britain, a time where consumerism, achievement and hard work were lauded. I have always been a ‘grafter’. I have a propensity to work too hard and this has been compounded by my increasing use of digital communications; when I first started teaching, we still used pigeon holes to drop notes to one another. I now receive circa 100+ emails each day which require some sort of response or action and hundreds more which simply bring information and require ‘sifting’. My recent social media activities have intensified the number of information streams which I deal with on a daily basis.

However, in recent years I have started to question this drive. It’s probably no coincidence that this reconsideration of my values coincided with the start of my practice of mindfulness. I began to practice mindfulness and meditation not as a reaction to overwork but as part of my therapy for an accident which resulted in hearing loss. I’m only two years in, but the impact has been significant. It has caused me to reassess my valuing of work – of busyness – and to step back from the frenetic overthinking which characterised much of my twenties and thirties.

There was much, therefore, in Levy’s article which seemed familiar; the definition of leisure, for example, and its focus on acceptance,  ‘Leisure is an openness to the world, to things as they are rather than as we wish them to be’ (Levy, 2007, p.241) is a familiar theme within the guided meditations which I follow. Levy highlights that for the Greeks ‘leisure was the highest good, the ultimate aim of human life, and work was a lesser, though still necessary, form  of activity’ (p.240). As a reforming workaholic, it is a useful reminder that contemporary western capitalist values are an inversion of this. Levy also cites Pieper, who ‘invokes Thomas Aquinas to argue that leisure, rightly understood and practised, is hardly idleness: on the contrary, it is frenetic overwork that constitutes a form of idleness, and it is overwork or “the restlessness of a self-destructive work fanaticism” (Pieper, 1998, p.27), as he so dramatically puts it – that is the true moral lapse.” (Levy, 2007, p.240).

Levy discusses the work of Thomas Hylland Eriksen, in particular, ‘The Tyranny of the Moment’, In it, Hylland ‘makes a distinction between ‘fast time’ and ‘slow time’ and states that here are some things which shouldn’t be done quickly, like ‘thorough. far-sighted work’ (Eriksen, 2001, p.150). Land highlights how digital communications  operate within fast time, ‘the digital world would seem to thrive, in the main, on ‘fast time’, immediacy of response’ (Land, 2011). Also citing Eriksen, he notes, ‘slow time…..considered necessary for certain kinds of intellectual and emotional experience, for the production of certain forms of thought, and for the generation of certain kinds of knowledge’, Creativity, new ideas and new thoughts arise, Eriksen argues, in the gap: ‘The new arises unexpectedly from the gaps created by slack in time budgets, not from crowded schedules’ (Eriksen, 2001, p.112).

As Land notes, ‘students in the digital age are ‘never away’ but permanently networked’ (Land, 2011). Our crowded digital worlds offer few spaces, few gaps. Where can we as educators and our students find the necessary leisure for creative, original, deep thinking? The rise of mindfulness – including mindfulness in schools -might be seen to be a reaction to the digital busyness which we are trying to navigate. Given the impact which mindfulness and meditation has had on me I welcome these initiatives. However, like others on our forums this week, I feel that they are reactive to a degree. We need to step back further and reassess what education looks like in a digital arena. How do we inculcate higher order thinking skills within a system which values ‘doing’ and producing and which now harnesses fast modes of thinking through increased digitisation?  As Robinson has highlighted, our education system already offers few spaces for creativity, for truly aesthetic experiences (5:56):

Can we leverage the digital to create more spaces, gaps and arenas for thought? Some are reclaiming digital spaces and redefining what they are and how they can be used. Stig brought this video to our attention this week (only watch the whole of it if you have a spare 7 hours) and drew interesting parallels between such work and attempts to counter the ‘gestell’:


Artists and musicians are carving out spaces for reflection, creating stillness in fast spaces defined by movement. We must also do this within education; we must look at how we can give our students places within which they can be still, as ‘only the person who is still can hear, and whoever is not still, cannot hear’ (Pieper, 1998, p.31). The IDEL course has done this for me. It has created a sanctuary within which I can reflect on my own practice, engage in discussion with peers and, above all, think. This digital space counters the many others in which I operate which are ‘more protean and restless in nature’ (Land, 2011).

Levy, D. (2007) No time to think: Reflections on information technology and contemplative scholarship, Ethics and Information Technology, 9(4): 233-236
Land, R. (2011) Speed and the Unsettling of Knowledge in the Digital University, in R. Land and S. Bayne (eds), Digital Difference, pp. 61-70

Seeing and hearing

A little space of sanctuary this week was our Blackboard Collaborate session on Thursday evening. For the first time, a number of us met and saw one another’s faces and heard one another’s voices. We saw one another animated and caught glimpses of the physical spaces within which we operate.

The discussion was wide-ranging, from talking about how we carve out spaces for study to thinking about what technologies we use to save us time and give us space (my slow-cooker is one such piece of kit!).

What was of interest to me when thinking about my own practice is how much more relaxed this mode of communication and collaboration was compared to others we have dawsonused so far on the course. Being able to see the smiles, the nods, the positive signs of engagement, created a sense of connection and an openness which has real value. I felt quite melancholy at the end of the session knowing that this would, in some cases, be the last time I talked with some of my fellow students. It’s a sign of how successful the IDEL course has been that we have established this sense of connection with the other students.


I’m currently writing

I’m writing this in my kitchen this evening…

This week, I undertook the task before reading this week’s core text, so it was interesting to reflect on Fitzpatrick’s observations in light of my own experience of creating a multimodal text.

Reflecting on the possibilities which new forms of writing and the creation of open, collaborative texts might offer, Fitzpatrick notes that ‘such reconsidered writing practices might help many of us find more pleasure, and less anxiety, in the act of writing itself.’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011, p.3). As I noted in my blog post about the task, this was certainly my experience. Firstly, I knew that the media embedded within the presentation would carry some of the ‘weight’ of my ideas. I was able to relax and let the reader play with the connotations, creating their own reading of the text. Secondly, I didn’t feel bound by the structural requirements of a standard academic, written response. I knew that this was the start of an interaction with an audience rather than the end of a process of independent crafting; this was the start of an ongoing conversation, ‘The author is not operating – and has never operated – in a vacuum, but has always been a participant in an ongoing conversation’  (Fitzpatrick, 2011, p.7).

This was, for me, a far more compelling challenge than our first structured blog task; I felt less isolated and constrained ‘network technologies might help us feel less alone and less lost in the writing process…’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011, p.3).

Fitzpatrick cites Lawrence Lessig’s work which explores how ‘the networks of electronic communication carry embedded values within the codes that structure their operation, and many of the Internet’s codes, and thus its values, are substantively different from those within which scholars – or at least those in the humanities – profess to operate.’ (Lessig, 2006, quoted in Fitzpatrick, 2011, p.4). Online creation and communication offer space where we and our students can, perhaps, feel more comfortable than within the strictures and confines of traditional academic writing. The creation of a multimedia essay can be a freeing tool for us and for students; a medium within which we can more readily operate; we can engage in ‘more recursive, more nonlinear, more open-ended, more spontaneous (writing)’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011, p.5).

David Mitchell
Not that one either…
No, not that one

As Fitzpatrick goes on to note, ‘The technologies of a new literary system, in other words, are here.’  (2011, p.7) and these are beginning to be exploited within education. David Mitchell’s QuadBlogging project, for example, has exploited just some of the potentials of new modes of literacies to encourage, support and improve children’ writing. The process involves a class of young writers being grouped with other schools and organisations (such as MIT); these groups engage in a process of blogging, offering supportive and timely feedback on one another’s post. The children are engaged in a process of communication – they are writing for a ‘real’ audience and they themselves become ‘active readers’ (Bloch and Hesse, 1993, p.8).

Multimodal texts are also increasingly available, offering new ways for young readers to engage with their reading and to become active creators of the text. Earth: a primer is such a resource; readers become makers of the text and of the world itself, creating volcanoes, icebergs and their own meanings.

What is also of real interest is how, through digital media, we are able, as educators, to lay bare the process of creation, the hacking and slashing that happens, the false starts, the hesitations and the revisions offering, via this a model of the creative process for our students to engage with.

Such affordances allow the reader to ‘approach a text not just in a finished state, but throughout its process of development’ (Fitzpatrick, 2011. p.12) and thereby to see that writing is messy, chaotic, difficult and never finished. Even now.

Bloch, R. H., and Hesse, C. (1993) ‘Introduction’, Representations 42: 1-12
Fitzpatrick, K. (2011) The digital future of authorship: rethinking originalityCulture Machine vol. 12


This week’s mission required us to rework an extract from Plato’s Phaedrus:

week 10 task

The first step in this process was to modernise the original text. I did this in OneNote, working up my translation alongside the original:


This process of reworking and reinterpreting helped me to fully grasp the nuances of the original which, at first pass, felt a little impenetrable in places. Once this was done, I opted to use eMaze; if I’m truly honest, the rationale behind the choice of tool was that it was one of the first results in the list of sites which was returned when I Googled ‘presentation tools’. Our Moodle site was down and I couldn’t access the lists of recommended tools, so I opted for expediency.

This is the resulting presentation:

Powered by emaze

Fragments of a papyrus roll of the Phaedrus from the 2nd century AD

The aim was to suggest connections and parallels between Plato’s text and the internet. One of the things I was keen to try and achieve was to allow the images and the videos in the gallery to serve to critique Socrates’ criticisms of writing; I also hoped that the reader would be encouraged to play in the gaps between the text and the ‘paintings’ and develop their own response both to Socrates’ arguments and to the artefacts within the multimedia gallery.

My experience of creating the presentation was enjoyable; I knew that I could let the images and the videos do some of the work for me. I was crafting somethigapng academic but the crafting was more immersive and less pressured than writing alone; it was more more creative. I could exploit and revel in the gaps. I didn’t have to worry about creating a closed text, I was, instead, laying out the start of a discourse: I was inviting the reader into the spaces and they were going to have to do some of the work in creating meaning: