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Digital Game Based Learning 132

rjnagle writes "When Marc Prensky asked a colleague who had just returned from a training course how it was, she replied, 'AFTRB.' (Another #$#$^&# Three Ring Binder) . In his book, Digital Game-Based Learning , Prensky, an instructional game designer and founder of games2train, argues that computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored." To follow that train of thought (or if you just liked Ender's Game), read on below for Nagle's lengthy review of the book.
Digital Game Based Learning
author Marc Prensky
pages 442
publisher McGraw-Hill Trade
rating 5/5
reviewer Robert Nagle (aka Idiotprogrammer)
ISBN 0071363440
summary Visionary book on instructional design and game design.

Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL) consists of two parts. In the first part, Prensky argues that the prevalence of video games has actually rewired our brains and made traditional learning methods less effective. In the second part, Prensky makes the case that DGBL can be used successfully by corporations to train people and offers practical advice (based on vast experience) about how to deploy game-based training methods. Throughout the book, Prensky examines aesthetic, cognitive and pedagogical questions surrounding such games and provides dozens of case studies to illustrate his points.

Prensky argues that current learning methods for young learners fail to engage learners used to interactive media. Learners now expect interactivity. Prensky writes:

Games Generation workers rarely even think of reading a manual. They'll just play with the software, hitting every key if necessary, until they figure it out. If they can't, they assume the problem is with the software, not with them--software is supposed to teach you how to use it. This attitude is almost certainly a direct result of growing up with Sega, Sony, Nintendo, and other video games where each level and monster had to be figured out by trial and error, and each trial click could lead to a hidden surprise. Games are almost all designed to teach as you go.

Prensky believes that the instructor-led classroom and the teach-test method are actually historical artifacts no more than 200 or 300 years old. The teach-test instructor-led class and its instructional methods arose partially from the rise of the printing press and the widespread availability of reading material.

Why then does the teach-test method still prevail? One reason may be the generation gap and technology gap between learners and teachers. Even technologically savvy educators have biases towards methods that worked while they were learners themselves. The way we learn is to some extent a byproduct of the cultural and technological milieu we mature in. Twenty years ago educators were extolling the virtues of reading books while youngsters (including me) were "wasting" their time before the boob tube. Nowadays, undoubtedly, there is a tension between educators pushing "media literacy" (media, in this case, often equaling conventional TV broadcasting) and students too busy making additions to their online Sims house or watching webcams of friends to care. No matter how much you may try to keep up, I once told a group of middle-aged Ukrainian teachers, your students will always be more hip to the technology than you.

This is not merely a matter of age but of comfort level. Growing up with a technology (especially at an early ago) makes using it second nature. According to the neurology and psychology research that Prensky cites, the brain reorganizes and rewires itself in response to cultural stimuli, so a child who plays videogames at night is bored at class not because of "short attention span" or bad study habits but because the child's brain has programmed itself to respond better to "twitchspeed" interactivity. Prensky cites John Bruer's statement that achieving this kind of brain reorganization requires students to spend "100 minutes a day, 5 days a week, for 5 to 10 weeks to create desired changes because "it takes sharply focused attention to rewire a brain." Then Prensky adds, "Several hours a day, five days a week, sharply focused attention--does that remind you of anything? Oh yes -video games!" (p 43) . Interestingly, Prensky cites research about how children with attention deficit disorder are using video games to retrain their brain and help them to concentrate. For the game-playing child, going to school means having to "power down" and endure teaching methods ill-suited to him. (p44).

After Sesame Street showed that you could educate children by entertaining them (and sustaining their interest), games (and sometimes even instructional technology) have focused on how to sustain this interest. In an age where pop-ups, 15-second promos and CNN updates are everywhere, it is no wonder that "gaining attention share" is the central concern. Children have learned the art of selectively being able to tune out media. How then to keep their attention? Interestingly, this concern parallels that of game developers looking for better ways to sustain gameplay.

A child once described playing educational games as "hard fun." When people are "playing," they forget inhibitions and self-consciousness to concentrate on the game's mission (i.e, "learning objectives"). When I taught English to college students overseas, I was surprised to find that one of my weakest and least confident student interacted adeptly to an immersive role-playing game with a strong English language component. From my viewpoint, she was quickly comprehending spoken dialogue and responding appropriately. From her viewpoint, she had just crossed the bridge and now could start digging for gold. Cognitive breakthroughs often require distracting activity to allow the mind to refocus (visionary Alan Kay wrote, "people have more brainstorms on the jogging path than at their desks."). Educators typically view educational gaming as useful mainly for drill and practice, but as gaming environments become more complex, edugames may be more useful in providing roundabout paths towards concepts hard to reach by traditional methods. To use just one example, computer aids allow students to manipulate data and geometric figures as a way to experiment with mathematical principles. Indeed, one of Prensky's most successful game projects, the Monkey Wrench Conspiracy, taught young learners/players how to do 3D computer design by setting them in a spaceship with a mission to make repairs before the spaceship blows up.

The most fascinating section for me was Prensky's juxtaposition of game design principles alongside instructional design principles. Even if one doesn't accept Prensky's historical analysis (and thoughtful detractors like Kurt Squier have pointed out shortcomings) or his argument that games should be more widely used for training, Prensky's theoretical overview of game design should interest people in both the education and game camps. Both game designers and instructional designers are obsessed with epistemology: how to reveal information to the player/learner in a way that sustains interest; how to use conflict to change the player/learner's behavior or attitudes; how to provide enough feedback for the player/learner to change behavior; how to present a simplified view of the world without distorting it; and how to permit freedom of exploration within the constraints of an object-oriented world or of a lesson plan. These are concerns, by the way, that also interest writers of plays and fiction, except that the "player" is split into two roles: that of character (who is controlled by the playwright/writer controls) and audience (who can emphasize and anticipate, but can't change outcomes).

Prensky's grid that maps learning content to game styles (p156) indicates that sufficient varieties of games exist to tackle any training challenge. Electronic Jeopardy style games can drill employees about company policies (and these templates are commercially available and widely used). Realistic simulation games, although probably more costly to produce, may actually reduce training costs whenever the actual equipment or training environment is expensive to begin with. Better that the potential pilot crash-land a few Flight Simulator planes, or that the combat soldier accidentally kill a few civilians within a simulation environment than for real. Prensky offers good questions for evaluating the educational value of computer games: do people using it think of themselves as players rather than students? Is the experience addictive? Does it encourage reflection? Would the game be considered "fun" by someone outside the target audience? Despite the similarities, there are important differences, Prensky would argue, between games that entertain and those that educate. For one thing, successful games require visual external action to sustain attention. But this is not needed for certain domains of learning. Games may be good for learning the process of putting together a Burger King hamburger (p264), but would a game be practical for learning Java programming? Or Freud's theory of the unconscious? It's probably not impossible to design such a game; both Java and psychoanalysis involve understanding low-level mechanisms of causation, recognizing aberrant patterns and being able to select the correct algorithm from the available repertory of solutions. Role-playing and collaborative simulations would help. But what the learner needs most is FEEDBACK, game or no game. The assumption behind Prensky's advocacy of game-based learning is that content needs "livening up" or that external motivators (like video games) are needed to drive the students toward learning. I am not questioning the value of these "external motivators." But I have to wonder whether Prensky's pedagogical approach implies that certain kinds of learning activities cannot be self-motivating. Sure, a game about Java programming might amuse the CS student, but the more crucial question (I would argue) is whether this student finds the very activity of programming in java to be "hard fun."

To Prensky's credit, he does not insist that game-based learning is the best strategy for every learning situation. Perhaps the most compelling part of the book is a discussion of more than 40 case studies where computer games have been cost-effective at training. They range from an animated courtroom game (Objection) to a customer service game (where in the world is Carmen Sandiego's Luggage?) to a Sexual Harassment gameshow and many fine examples from Prensky's own company (which can be sampled online for free). He offers helpful advice (undoubtedly gained from experience) about how trainers can launch and even manage such a project. Among his suggestions: befriend IT as soon as possible; choose urgent learning needs that are "boring, complex or difficult," and offer game-based learning in conjunction with more traditional methods and give learners the option NOT to learn via the game method. Prensky offers practical suggestions to companies with training budgets ranging from the hundreds of thousands of dollars to nothing. Although the book is two years old, it still gives a good sense of what your money can get you these days.

Critics usually argue that "e-learning" doesn't compare favorably to live teachers. That is missing the point; the real question is whether e-learning (and game-based learning) provides comparable learning at a lower cost. As e-learning and game-based learning becomes more cost-effective, Prensky predicts a fairly radical transformation of the teacher/trainer's role. To some extent, this has already occurred with the advent of collaborative and student-based learning. But trainers may spend more time choosing the best learning tool for students (or creating new ones!) than actually teaching in a classroom. Is this bad? Prensky mentions that "any teacher who can be replaced by a computer, should be." In this world of game-based learning, Prensky argues, teachers can play a vital role in ensuring that students adequately reflect on the problems or conflicts that arose during the game/learning activity. Games are good at interactivity but bad at reflection. They offer ample opportunities for learning by doing, Prensky says, but minimal opportunities for reflection. One student, asked what he learned from playing SimCity, said, "I learned that if I don't feed the people, they will starve and die." That is clearly insufficient. A good instructor can help the student explore issues more deeply: how do politicians decide about allocating resources? Does the feedback offered to politicians give an accurate reflection of society's needs and problems? What strategies worked or did not work within the context of the game? Would these strategies also work in real life? Reflection is not necessary for every learning context, but today's trainers can make sure students have enough reflection to reap the benefits of game-based learning.

Prensky's book is an excellent introduction to this exciting field. He writes superbly and has a good grasp on learning theory and software design. Although clearly an enthusiast, he never implies that DGBL is the only or best teaching method. Many of Prensky's successes involve computer games as a primary component, but computer games don't need to play a central part in a lesson to be useful for learners. For example, a student can attend a traditional foreign language class and practice at home using a computer game. Ultimately computer games may have more value as supplemental material than as primary material.

Prensky's critique of the traditional trainer is sometimes unfair, especially the "generation gap" thing. Technology is not essential for reaching younger learners (and some experts have decried its overuse). Resourcefulness, a well-designed curriculum and motivational ability trumps game-based learning every time (even Prensky would agree with that, I think).

If we accept Prensky's premise that instructional methods are somehow determined by the prevailing state of technology, one starts down the path of saying that instructional methods are subject to obsolescence. New teaching methods may be more cost-effective or more motivating, but they don't necessary repudiate the value of "old-fashioned" methods (indeed, there will come a time when DGBL will be regarded as old-fashioned, so Prensky better watch out what he says). Using teaching methods so dependent on a technology, I would argue, has the unfortunate effect of rendering teachers helpless in the wake of massive technological breakdown. If a trainer/facilitator skilled in DGBL suddenly found his classroom without Internet access, could he still train employees effectively? One of my most edifying experiences as a teacher came at a Albanian university in Vlore lacking not only computers, but also copy machines and yes, sometimes even electricity. Every day I walked to class, mentally having to plan for contingencies (no electricity, inability to obtain photocopies from a nearby shop) for the day's lessons. While I still managed to pull off some funky lessons (with battery-powered cassette players, magic markers, magazine pictures and large posterboards), I couldn't help wondering if my "innovative teaching methods" merely burdened me with more things that could go wrong. The flip side of Prensky's magnificent vision is the nightmare scenario of teachers so overwhelmed with newfangled technological aids that they opt for the tried-and-true (but technologically primitive) methods rather than risk losing a class to downtime.

Although the spectacular successes mentioned in the book were informative, it also might have been helpful to examine cases where DGBL have failed or turned out to be not particularly remarkable. Every so often, a new theory or learning method hits the world, and suddenly educators use this method whether it is appropriate or not. When is DGBL not appropriate?

When making the business case for DGBL, Prensky overlooked two important things. First, the obsolescence of technology and technological standards (and the perception of obsolescence) diminishes the value of custom-built games for corporations. This seems to be an argument for using cheaper mass-market games rather than convincing the CEO to fund an ambitious game project. Also, I'm surprised that the book didn't spend more time on one obvious advantage to DGBL: digital assessments. Computer games make it easier to verify that learners performed required tasks and to keep the performance data in digital form to demonstrate compliance. That would be a big selling point for human resources.

I've written elsewhere that as immersive games become more sophisticated and develop their own society and values, real life will start to resemble a video game and videogame prowess may become an end worth pursuing for its own sake. Now that weapons and radar systems look more like computer games, for example, military recruiters might be happy with legions of game addicts manning their battalions. As it becomes easier to gain knowledge and experience completely from computer games, the notion of having to learn things from real life will start to seem very strange.

Other Resources

Marc Prensky has put generous excerpts from the book online for free. His company website contain a lot of fun free/demo games, including (my favorite) "The Challenge." Expect it to be slashdotted for a while. You can also buy the book here.

Kurt Squire of MIT's Games-to-Teach project , has written a preceptive article, Reframing the Cultural Space of Computer and Video Games and many other things on game-based learning , including an excellent critique of Prensky's book.

Dr. Sivasailam "Thiagi" Thiagarajan writes frequently on using games for training. His Thiagi website contains lots of freebies as well as a free monthly newsletter with lots of game/training ideas.

Gamasutra has a separate section on writings about educational games. Free registration is required.

Although not explicitly about game-based learning, Steven Poole's book, Trigger Happy offers a sophisticated aesthetic analysis of videogame narratives and engagement.

Robert Nagle (aka Idiotprogrammer) is a linux nut, technical writer and trainer with a background in instructional design and game design. He works for Texas Instruments in Houston. You can purchase Digital Game Based Learning from bn.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Digital Game Based Learning

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  • I did try (Score:5, Interesting)

    by too_bad ( 595984 ) * on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:08AM (#5825365)
    I actually went to their site and clicked on play a game. I chose business ethics
    and it brought up this solitaire game with questions after each move to the top.
    Its so very annoying. Either gimme the questions separately, I will answer them and
    move on with my day, or gimme a solitaire game, and I will play it until the meeting ends.
    Put both together and you are tying a boring game with a boring topic putting me to
    instant sleep.

    (sighs) Is this innovation at its best ?
    • I played the "Cube Dude" game (a rip-off of pacman) w/Business Ethics. The game was absolutely awful. When you got to a blue box (e.g. power pill) you had to answer a question.

      First off, the game was slow as hell whenever you had to switch between game/question screens, even though it loaded all the questions in advance. Then, after answering a question, you are returned to the game, but the arrow keys no longer respond! So, you have to sit around waiting for one of the pathetic "bosses" to come get you, w
    • ...ethics too.I reached the conclusion that It is unethical to play solitaire at work.
  • by donkiemaster ( 654606 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:08AM (#5825370)
    and i should know...what were we talking about?
  • by iamkrinkle ( 585605 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:16AM (#5825438)
    I've always had a theory that if with each patch of return to castle wolfenstien they added more german, i would be fluent in a year. Already my cousin and will yell shnell! shnell! when we are hanging out occasionally... can't believe i just admitted that... *hangs head in shame*
  • by ckessel ( 607295 ) <(ckessel) (at) (tripwire.com)> on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:19AM (#5825465)
    A good chunk of going to primary school is learning how to behave socially. Learning ramifications for social action/inaction. One can argue this is true all through schooling, even in college, as people mature they need both other students to interact with and teachers to help guide those behaviors. This is, excluding a few "health" type classes, all done along side the normal learning that goes on. If you replace many teachers with machines, and students are in an e-learning environment where they don't interact with other students (or interaction is limited) then I'd guess you're going to lose an important part of what people actually learn as they go through the school system.
    • I think that the theory is sound (as far as games teaching kids), however, I believe it should be a 'secondary' approach (like replace the games with educational games) so the kids learn whenever they are being solidary anyway. This stuff should never replace school for the same reason as you are stating plus more.

      I tutored a child prodigy, but his mother refused to push him up grades. Why? Because you learn social interaction, and school teaches you how to learn. Something a video game can't really t
      • "school teaches you how to learn. Something a video game can't really teach you."

        I Disagree Completely.
        School teaches you to memorize.

        Too tired to elaborate...

      • Because you learn social interaction, and school teaches you how to learn.

        Hmm, I was a typial smart geek type in elementary school. School taught me 1) geeks make good dodge-ball targets, and 2) teachers spout boring, obvious information.

        I still remember in 2nd grade the art teacher standing in front of the class holding her ring up to the light, sqinting through it with one eye, telling us how round it was, and that our construction paper circles should be just like that. I was thinking 'no shit, but
      • One can avoid learning how to learn if left with slower classmates. A good memory and a certain ability to match up useful information can obtain decent grades. If you are never pushed, you will never have to learn how to learn. Of course, pushing up grades won't necessarily help either, since the student is still with classmates without the innate ability, just more experience.

        Her choice may have been correct (if I understand you correctly), keep him with other students for the social interaction but a
    • by Anonymous Coward
      In other words,

      Computer geeks are socially inept because they spend all their time interacting with machines.


      Geeks interact with machines because they are socially inept.

      I agree with you, but computer game-based training has a place. Driving sims are good to get some experience before you plunk someone in control of an 18 wheeler, and flight sims are great way to train pilots.
      • >computer game-based training has a place. I definitely agree. Perhaps we need to distinguish training versus education? I see computers as being most useful in training, especially technical training where you're learning a skill.

        I don't see them being as useful in teaching a concept. Perhaps in reinforcing it though. I remember a "game" in high school that let you get a little computer guy drunk and try to drive home. We had fun getting so wasted he could drive, but not pass out, and see if he

    • by Anonymous Coward
      A good chunk of going to primary school is learning how to behave socially.

      If that's the goal, the school environment would seem to be poorly structured for it.

      Think about it: You have 20-30 people, all of whom are within one year of the same age. You have an authority figure running things. The students can't leave (though they can be thrown out). They can't even go to the bathroom without permission.

      What sort of adult society has that type of structure? The Army? Prison? One of the old-fashioned "dar
      • You, obviously, don't have kids.

        Now, what you say is true, but remember, these are children. Children find the 'bounds' of rules by breaking them as far as they can, until they get in trouble. Discipline must be instilled on children until they are of a mature age when they understand that learning is what is necessary for them to get anywhere in life.
        • You, obviously, are very sick. Now, what you say is false, since children are individuals. Children are 'different', and although some learning may be imposed through punishment in certain cases, often they try to mimic good behaviour. The original AC was merely suggesting that it would be better to set a good example more often than to impose a punishment system for bad behaviour (and the AC made no suggestion of whether children of 5 or 15 were being discussed). As for your sickness, it is the fundament
      • You've missed one of the biggest problems with this model, in my opinion. Think Social Darwinism doesn't exist anymore? Take a look at a public school sometime.

        Children are allowed to be absolutely awful to one another, so long as they don't fight. Once they do fight, they both get suspended for equal amounts of time, no matter who started it, or if one person was attacked and didn't even fight back. Teachers have learned to simply ignore all of this, and pretend it's not going on.

        I'm willing to bet there
      • I mean an environment that teaches them that different people have different domains of expertise. Not an environment that teaches them (or attempts to teach them) to listen to a single authority figure.

        The first part of your requirements is easily met by Rudolf Steiner schools. I attended one of those and everyone in the class had his/her domain of expertise. Plus, we had a very strong sense of community.
        As for the authority: I think kids of a certain age (7-14) need authority - just as another poster
    • by PatientZero ( 25929 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:53AM (#5825722)
      Don't think about replacing teachers with computers and stop there. The point is to use computers for tasks that computers are good at, freeing up the teacher's time to focus on things that computers can't do.

      For example, let's take basic math. The teacher typically spends a lot of time doing "drills" on the board, "What's 4 + 7? And 11 + 32? How about 9 + 18, Johnny?" Those that grasp the concept quickly must suffer through endless boredom. Those that don't must struggle to keep up.

      A computer game could do these drills (and I bet even the basic explanation of what the operators mean and do). Then the teacher could go around helping those in need one-on-one, maximizing personal interaction where it's needed most. As well, those that are doing well (easily determined by automatic scoring) could help out their classmates.

      I'm realistic, and I know this is not the be-all-end-all solution. The trick is recognizing that (a) teachers are expensive (and should be paid far more, but don't get me started), (b) their time is limited, and (c) each student learns at a different pace. With class sizes much larger than most people believe to be effective, any solution that relieves the teacher of rote tasks while still being effective is a win.

    • An interesting [wired.com] read on how games do teach us valuable lessons, and some amazing insight into how we could change teaching habits to leverage the advantages games bring to the table.
    • I've interacted with hundreds of people hiding behind masks, cloaking their identity, who I can only know by what they say.

      No, that's 'real' people.

      My internet friends are more interesting in many ways. I've never met many of them face to face, I learned to accept a blind man as a master coder without knowing he was blind until much later. I know his code is good as I've seen the results, I don't think I would have been open to this idea if I'd met him in person and probably would not have had a good frie
  • by Mattygfunk1 ( 596840 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:21AM (#5825476)
    .. computer games are more effective learning tools because they sustain interest and attention in settings where people are normally bored.

    I find it strange that every kid gets taught letters and numbers by using learning games, yet more advanced learning ignores this technique.

    I know that there are games that teach you to program (topcoder.com is an example), but the potential in all areas of training isn't used. Maybe we will see a trend towards learning games in the future.

    cheap web site hosting [cheap-web-...ing.com.au]

    • Yeah, you read that right ;o)

      This was a great game for PC (maybe 3 years ago?), based on the arcade shoot-em-up House Of The Dead. Instead of shooting, though, it would flash words up at you and you had to type them as fast as possible with as few errors as possible. The faster and more accurate, the more you shot the zombies coming for you. It was hilarious (in fact sometimes it was really hard to type for laughing), but also made for great practice at typing. Mavis Beacon it ain't.

      More of this sort
    • I find it strange that every kid gets taught letters and numbers by using learning games, yet more advanced learning ignores this technique.

      Hey, almost everyone I know at my University prefer to play games instead of reading books and studying the old fashioned way. Does it mean that we are actually way ahead of the rest? Yay!
  • by Hayzeus ( 596826 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:21AM (#5825483) Homepage
    wouldn't porn-based learning be far more effective. Our brains, after all, have been "wired" to respond to sex for all of our evolutionary history. I see a book deal and a sh*t load of seminars in my future. I'll be rich!
    • Forget that! Just think of the field work, man!
    • MAD magazine once had an humourous article about using paperback porn to teach high-school subjects to semi-literate teens. Now *that* was educating.
      • Except remove the porn, and that's exactly what "Harry Potter" and similar kids' books have done (Roald Dahl is another good one). Reading rates are way higher now than before amongst the HP target audience.

        If reading is interesting, kids'll read. Blame that problem on kids being given "See Spot run" books to learn with instead of anything more interesting. If I'd learnt to read by seeing Spot run and Janet and John being fucking twee, I'd rather be illiterate too.

        (BTW, don't tell me about Harry Potter
  • learning to learn (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scrotch ( 605605 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:28AM (#5825532)
    One of the most important parts of an education is to learn how to learn things on your own. You need to learn to research from available materials and to observe and analyze the real world.

    Video games don't teach this way. It would be very difficult to design one that would teach broadly enough to have this sort of benefit. What we have are games that reward hunt-and-peck experimentation like a rat pushing buttons until the food pops out rather than the shock. This teaches small lessons about specific tasks in specific environments. It does not teach how to develop a picture of the world at large. What we need is the (obviously beyond our means) world-reactive book in Stephenson's Diamond Age.

    The SimCity example is interesting. That game doesn't translate nicely into real life because you can't click on actual people to get a summary of how happy they are or what they want. You can't even get accurate information by asking most people. You get that information from observation, empathy and an understanding of the 'human condition' which is learned from literature, history and art.

    I can see children taught this way being utterly helpless when they can't find the video game that will teach them C++ or how to question their cell phone bill. They'll be looking for Divorce Master v2. They'll be small-task based and utterly manipulatable. Throw an image on the TV and their trigger fingers will start clicking with no idea what the long term might bring.

    Assumably this sort of teaching would augment rather than replace teachers. However, the trend in education has been toward employable task learning recently. Unless this remains balanced by broad focussed lessons, our society will be about as useful as its credit limit.
    • BS! (Score:3, Funny)

      by Hayzeus ( 596826 )
      The SimCity example is interesting. That game doesn't translate nicely into real life because you can't click on actual people to get a summary of how happy they are or what they want. You can't even get accurate information by asking most people. You get that information from observation, empathy and an understanding of the 'human condition' which is learned from literature, history and art.

      You can TOO click on people to see what they want. As it turns out, they usually want you to stop clicking on them.

      • poor guy...when I click on someone, they tend to like it. Guess it all depends on how good a clicker you are! ;)
      • Sometimes they yell at you to stop poking them. Or to stop rocking the boat, because you're making them seasick. I guess that footman is glad he's not sailing when you do that.
    • "One of the most important parts of an education is to learn how to learn things on your own. You need to learn to research from available materials and to observe and analyze the real world. Video games don't teach this way"

      I'm not too sure that is entirely accurate. I think some video games are great tools in teaching people, especially children, how to analyze your environment, look at your available resources, and create a plan for moving forward. I know that when I was young, I played tons of Sier

    • Games have been educational long before there were video games. I've always been impressed by how much better an idea of, for example, Germany's Barbarossa campaign you can get from a wargame like Fire in the East, than from worthy historical works that simply list the battles and the millions of dead.

      Just because the current crop of video games generally have little educational value doesn't make it an impossible mission. The Total War franchise gives you a reasonable idea of the complexities and detail o
    • Re:learning to learn (Score:2, Interesting)

      by hardpack ( 655741 ) *
      As a middle- and high-school teacher, I'm working on integrating the Sims in a learning environment, similarly to how Prensky proposes in What Kids Learn that's POSITIVE... [marcprensky.com], but in a slightly different way.

      With the Sims, students can experiment with modelling a different personality or type of interaction with other characters, and formally analyze how you learn about other peoples' wants and/or needs.

      I feel that if I had the training to formally analyze social situations, even at the most superficial, it
      • With the Sims, students can experiment with modelling a different personality or type of interaction with other characters, and formally analyze how you learn about other peoples' wants and/or needs.

        This may be a good place to start the lesson. It should be engaging and interest the students. But it will not be a good place to end the lesson. It won't be safe to assume that the Sims is a perfect (or even mediocre) model of real psychology. You, personally, will also need to bridge the gap between the re

        • Again, it's a good place to start. But it needs to be connected to the real world - you have to make sure that the subtleties, nuances of actual human interaction aren't forgotten ... It's important to not gloss over how complicated humanity is.

          Definitely true. This is a start. A way to show that kids can methodically approach real-world (or virtually real-world :) ) decisions and that they're not just running willy-nilly as life speeds by.

          Because of this desire to have kids "step back" and look at

    • I can see children taught this way being utterly helpless when they can't find the video game that will teach them C++ or how to question their cell phone bill.

      I've seen people brought up on traditional training that couldn't pull off either, game or no game.

      Come to think of it, starting in elementary school, all of my learning has emphasized rote memorization over gathering information. Just about the only information gathering I ever did was for book reports, and later, the occasional research paper.
    • What a load of malarkey. Do you think you learn "observation, empathy and an understanding of the 'human condition'" sitting in a classroom listening to a lecture? You don't.

      That's stuff that you need to learn (mostly) outside of formal education. What difference does it make if someone learns about physics or spelling from a computer or a textbook? None! I don't think anyone is trying to write experience capturing video games to teach sociology or art, but there's no reason this couldn't work for 90
  • I think by the time you are learning java programming, it's fun on of it's own volition. Otherwise why are you spending so much money to learn it.

    I did love that number cruncher game in 2nd grade though. And Oregon trail! Fort Walla Walla, here I come!
  • by AssFace ( 118098 ) <stenz77 AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:34AM (#5825582) Homepage Journal
    The company I'm currently at (although only until mid-May) is an eLearning company. We have to deal with this stuff all of the time. We are already moving more towards the wireless/handheld market and we are trying to develop learning games as well.

    It is relatively easy to make a game.
    It is significantly harder to make it a fun game.
    It is even harder to make it a fun game that you can learn from.
    We have spent a lot of time working on it, and I almost wonder if it is a contradiction in terms - the learning has to be transparent to the user or else they will percieve it as work and even things that would normally be fun, very quickly becoming tiresome and annoying.

    There are instances where you can combine games and *work* (the doom port that allowed you to kill processes) - but there are very few good instances of games where you explicitly learn.
    There are many games that have inherant spatial learning that is part of it, or small puzzles that are solved - all well and good for maze exercises and working the logic part of your brain.
    But for developing and learning towards an end goal of a concrete subject - say to learn Spanish - or to learn about how the body metabolizes a certain drug - or what increases the incidence of heart attacks in certain people... Then you get into a tough area.

    Oregon Trail and Math Blaster are two games that come to mind that taught something and were vaguely fun... but given the choice to play those, or GTA III - I think I know what everyone would chose.
    • To learn Spanish, what comes to mind is a standard adventure game, where the conversations you have with people are increasingly in Spanish. In order to get through the game, you basically have to learn the language in context.

      For the metabolization process, a very basic 2d puzzle game would work. You have a payload you need to drop in a certain place. You can put "shields" of various compounds or drugs around your payload. Then you drop it into the system and see how close you get to the intended locatio
      • Sounds like some good points.

        I should also add that for our own uses ("our" meaning this company that I am at), we have a very short sit time for the users. If this were for children in school, it could be that they play this game every now and then, and perhaps an hour at a time, over the course of a semseter or school year.

        But for the things that we create - the person is given a CD that is part of a seminar, and then they watch the person giving a lecture on the subject, working their way through the C
    • Maybe I started playing Oregon Trail when I was too old, but all it taught me was to start with the character with the highest multiplier, and hunt a lot. You can sell about half a ton of food for $100, and end the game with thousands in cash - instant high scores. Definately a case where you have to be careful what you're trying to teach and what is being learned actually mesh!
    • But for developing and learning towards an end goal of a concrete subject - say to learn Spanish

      The first idea that springs to my mind is to create a "live a day in a foreign city" -game. At the start of the day, you have a checklist of things to do in a city. You then pick places, are given with dialogs (all in the language that is to be learned). If you can't understand something, you can hit a "hint" button and get more and more revealed in a language you understand (like english).

      And after all the
  • SimCity (Score:4, Funny)

    by Blakey Rat ( 99501 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:36AM (#5825595)
    One student, asked what he learned from playing SimCity, said, "I learned that if I don't feed the people, they will starve and die."

    What weird-ass version of SimCity was this?

    Last I played, the best thing I learned was that if your city is large enough, Superman will appear to fight off giant robot monsters from space.
  • by Enonu ( 129798 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:45AM (#5825658)
    I started playing video games at around the age of 6 with an Atari 2600. Soon, everything else became "slow" and "boring" compared to video games. I like playing the original tetris on level 19+, so you imaging how "bad" my condition is.

    After years of not getting the hang of it in school, I adapted my studying methods around 7th grade, and went from a C/D+ student to nearly straight As. My favorite studying method for was for memorization of material like vocabulary items. I'd get a partner who'd "blitz" me with questions that I would have to answer in under a second, e.g. "What's the subjunctive form of savoir for first person?" We would randomly switch roles to and from questionier and questionee.

    Not only would this method work nearly 100%, it allowed more free time since I'd be able to study for fact based tests in 30 minutes, preferably in the hall before class :) However, this method had the disadvantage that almost none of it was put into long-term memory. In other words, I'd repeat the process again for finals on the same material.

    As for problem solving tests and essays, programming helped me with the former, and essay grading was always too subjective for me to ever improve (random grades from C to A). Everybody is as full of shit as the next person as far as I'm concerned.

    So yep, I've been rewired by video games. Now I'm in the work force, but now I find that it's hard to apply my "twichspeed" mentality to work. Everything is too slow, and it's hard to keep the ball rolling.
    • So yep, I've been rewired by video games. Now I'm in the work force, but now I find that it's hard to apply my "twichspeed" mentality to work. Everything is too slow, and it's hard to keep the ball rolling.

      A thought: try doing two things at once. People talk about the task-switching overhead, and it's real, possibly insurmountable for some tasks.

      However, I've noticed that when I have trouble paying attention (especially in a setting where I'm listening to someone present/lecture/speak), if I start to lo
  • by yeoua ( 86835 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:45AM (#5825660)
    Although it is quite obvious that games may not teach all types of stuff, there may be some things that it may teach better than other forms of teaching, such as logic and problem solving.

    Since you cannot actually "teach" these skills persay, but can only use/exersize/practice them, games are actually quite a good idea in these cases. But what games? RPG's, adventure games, and puzzle games of course. Of course it depends on the game itself, but given the right game, you can learn quite a bit.

    Take your classic computer adventure game (King's Quest, etc) and you can see that there is a scripted logic puzzle as the basis of the game (even though there is a huge trial and error base, which may not be a good thing). Or even a console adventure game like the Zelda series with its room clear puzzles, though they are relatively simplistic (though the water dungeon in Zelda 64 was quite a pain at first glance, and the time element in the sequel did increase the difficulty of some of the puzzles).

    Then you have rpg's and the story element weaved in, forcing you to find the logical completing event in the story to go forward (though even this may sometimes be arbitrary), and possibly the tactical nature of the battles can teach problem solving skills (not the mass xp till your god and bash the boss, but the whip through the game with as low of a level as you possibly can get and see if you can still beat the last boss style of play).

    And finally the puzzle games. Everyone loves these and they can possibly teach spatial logic and such (tetris and the like), as well as hand eye coordination and speed of thinking (in these terms).

    So although games as some posters have said, are not really suited for teaching some things like facts and information (that schools teach) they can be useful in teaching other things that require practice and not data crunching.
    • Skills and facts (Score:2, Insightful)

      by itchyfidget ( 581616 )

      So although games as some posters have said, are not really suited for teaching some things like facts and information (that schools teach) they can be useful in teaching other things that require practice and not data crunching.

      I think that games are capable of teaching kids/adults both factual and skill-type stuff. No, I don't see a market for Dealing With Divorce 3.0, but I think you can learn a lot about the facts and about the process from some kind of computer-aided teaching-tool.

      For example,

  • A great challenge of educational games has been to flexibly respond to the differing skills of the learners in the rapid manner that a teacher can. If you look at the games my 3 year old plays, the challenge level adjusts automatically to her ability. Yet if she goes in an unanticipated direction, my presence is necessary to answer the questions that the games cannot.

    Prensky's take on children (even adults :>) expecting the software to teach you (software is supposed to teach you how to use it) speaks
  • by MoronBob ( 574671 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:50AM (#5825702)
    I must have ADD really bad. I support any attempt to make learning more fun and effective. The state of "E learning now is pathetic. Most of the online courses I have tried are nothing more than page turners. The prices they charge for this crap is criminal. Maybe games are not the answer but I have had many so called instructors that make reading a 600 page tome on pattern matching seem fun. I think game based learning is just another tool that some learners may find helpful.
  • by dAzED1 ( 33635 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:51AM (#5825705) Homepage Journal
    first, let me start by saying this is my second attempt at putting a review here. The first one was aborted due to the fact that when I clicked "quit" after the first game in a totally seperate window, it killed both windows. So, everything from my first post was gone. Annoying. After seeing that, I now notice that when I open, in a new window, that site to play the game, the banner up top for my slashdot posting window has changed to "digital game based learning." Interesting. Won't change my review, however.

    For those who grew up playing games at the arcade, Space Duel is an ideal learning interface. This game works for one player or two players across the Internet or an intranet. Users are certified via any number of questions plus a set of "facts" or "ideas," all linked to reference material on any web site or page. Rigorous learning and certification, PLUS all the engagement of a classic arcade game!

    Sounds reasonable, right? I selected the "Ethics - Rules for business conduct" topic for my game. I was then given the "how to play" rules.

    Use the up and down arrows to move your spaceship (on the left) and the space bar to fire.

    Hitting the opponent gets you a question. Being hit gets you a concept.

    Hitting bubbles gives special effects.

    Your goal is to answer all the questions correctly and get the highest possible score.

    Use the Concepts, Reference, Scores, and Questions Only buttons as needed.

    First question:

    A client wants you to select their proposal. Which gifts can you accept from the client?

    A. 2 great yankee tickets

    B. None

    C. Use of their Caribbean Resort

    D. $100 in cash

    Needing a vacation, and wanting to answer a question wrong, I selected C. The right answer was B, however. The correct answer is B. Gifts intended to influence a transaction are never permissible. At this point, to continue I had to press the "see reference" button to continue, which popped up a display telling me various things. I was quite confused though, since there it says:

    Employees may accept reasonable and conventional business courtesies, such as joining a customer or vendor in attending sporting events, golf outings or concerts, provided that such activities involve no more than the customary amenities.

    Left and right hands must be having a fight. Anyway, I was then allowed to continue as soon as I clicked the "back to game" button that appeared when I clicked the "see reference" button. Here, I ran in to the same technical problem I did last time - having gone to a seperate window, now going back to the game window I had no controls over my spacecraft. It just sat there. Despite that, after several minutes the computer opponent had not killed my disabled defenseless spacecraft - very difficult game. I clicked in the window several times, screwed around, and regained control. I decided to kill the opponent again, and this time answer a question correctly. "True or False: You join the board of your best friend's internet startup. Since this has nothing to do with the firm's business, you needn't disclose it to the firm." Answering "false," I was rewarded by not having to click "see reference" before returning to the game.

    All in all, I guess in theory the concept is ok, however the deliver is absolutely terrible - this game, at least, absolutely sucks. If I were playing a quake game and got weapons upgrades by fixing downed servers, or if I were playing some sort of corporate climbing game and the ultra-hot HR chic "rewarded" me when I was a good boy (tryign to think of an ok business ethics theme, but I guess that one doesn't work either), that might be different. But this...this just sucks, IMHO.

    • Herein lies the primary problem with "educational games"... if you set out in advance to make an educational game, you are almost certainly doomed to produce crap. The counterexamples can be named on one hand, and those aren't all the great either... what did you really learn from Oregon trail?

      IMHO the problem is that games are useless for real facts, as your review demonstrates. You just can't create a viable structure where you can just plug in your multiple choice questions and have a fun game. The clos
      • IMHO the problem is that games are useless for real facts, as your review demonstrates. You just can't create a viable structure where you can just plug in your multiple choice questions and have a fun game.

        You are right about the fact that putting multiple choice questions artificially into a game is not really going to get you much. However, that is not the only way to embed knowledge aquisition capabilities into gameplay. You can do much better, you just have to be doing it for the love of the subjec

  • .. you will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
  • by mellow106 ( 669136 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:53AM (#5825726)
    In a real job: -You might have to pick a a manual, and learn something new, relatively quickly. -You might have to see a presentation, and glean practical information from it. -You might be expected to indepedently research a topic, sort through datasheets, etc. The point is that in the real world, there isn't going to be an interactive game for most of the material you have to learn. So why train kids to learn that way? Wouldn't they be better off if they were used to learning by simply reading, or simply listening, or by actively seeking their own sources? Just not sure about the applicability of interactive learning, it might set expectations that the real world can't live up to. Just a thought.
    • The author's point is that this is the way "game generation" kids learn, so if we have content which we want them to pick up, we should use the format they have been trained to learn in.

      He isn't suggesting that we train them to learn that way. He is saying that they learn that way, whether we like it or not, and so the best way to teach them is that way.
  • by Luveno ( 575425 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:56AM (#5825746)
    A programming course tacked onto CounterStrike.

    The user is sneaking around a corner, and fires his weapon. Just as the bullet is about to strike it's target, up pops:

    "What are the four characteristics of a transaction?"

  • Great for kids (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Dread_ed ( 260158 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @12:08PM (#5825845) Homepage
    I have thought that games or television could be used to introduce children to concepts from mathematics that are usually learned by people who are much older.

    Two formats come to mind. One being "explicit" where the actual material is taught in an undisguised and straightforward, yet entertaining, format. An example would be a logic puzzle based upon a mathamatical principle. The puzzle is solved by getting the right clues from the gaming environment and using them to solve the puzzle. The gamer/student learns the principle and applys it to get to the next obstacle and progress in the game.

    The second would be "allegorical," where the information is related by the interaction of characters or plot elements to convey meaning under the guise of something else. An example is to name characters after, say, trigonometric functions (sin, cos, tan, etc.) and relate their behavior and interactions with each other to their mathematical qualities. The benefit of this method is that it could be used to introduce young chilren to these concepts long before they actually encounter the material academically. Then, when the material is introduced, the child finds that the mental model required to understand the concepts is already in place! All the student needs to do is make the connection. This method seems like a natural fit for television progamming.

    Just my $0.02.
  • I found the classic Maxis game SimEarth to be both informative and addictive. Informative in that you had to work within a particular system to nurture your planet, and addictive because of the sense of accomplishment that you got from exploring the many different possibilities. I remember my first dinosaur civilization, and the first time I realized that my planet was overheating and becoming unlivable.

    The good part about it was that it broadened my horizons and introduced me to new possibilites, encour
  • From the review:
    Prensky believes that the instructor-led classroom and the teach-test method are actually historical artifacts
    no more than 200 or 300 years old.

    Sorry, wrong.

    In Europe the tradition goes back to the eleventh century. This author hasn't read his history.

    A quick google on "Medieval Universities" yielded this essay [wnec.edu] as first of over 2500 hits.

    Fascinating is a word I use for the unexpected. -- Spock

    • One might also think of Socrates and Aristotle. Or even go so far as to say that epic poetry (lets say the performance of the Homeric Poems by ancient bards in 700 B.C.) is a form of early intructor-audience/class based training. Think also of the role of religion in early society and how that is a teacher and student relationship. Though in each case, I believe, the instructor recognizes the importance of keeping the class's attention and interest.
  • Computers games for kids are dangerous!

    You don't want to do it.
    Check it out at http://www.rivera.za.net/research_project.pdf [za.net]
  • Considering how much time people spend on /. blah blah'ing over random stuff, it may be a good idea in itself.

    It would be analogous to newsgroups but with more interactivity (and quick responses).

  • Games may be good for learning the process of putting together a Burger King hamburger (p264), but would a game be practical for learning Java programming?

    The problem as I see it is that "Educational" games and "Educational software" in general are never any fun, at least none that I've seen come to mind (I'll admit there's a chance that someone has a good educational game I've not seen). On the other hand, I think a lot of software that is not presented as "educational" can teach you a lot. Programs like

  • Then Prensky adds, "Several hours a day, five days a week, sharply focused attention" does that remind you of anything? Oh yes - video games! (p 43)

    Sorry, it reminds me of school. Admittedly, TV/games came first.
  • They talked about using Jeopardy format, but 3/4 the reasons Jeopardy was interesting was the DIFFERENT nature of the questions, and the fact that their answers were designed to be interesting.

    It is possible to make a fun game that teaches anything, even the most boring of subjects.

    But it takes a genius to do it for most things.

    He does have a single point that a SLIGHTLY fun game, that is 90% boring, is often better than an incredibally boring, dry book, writen like a thesis.

    But that is mroe an indic

  • by Nindalf ( 526257 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @01:25PM (#5826655)
    That's funny. I'm working on something that's right along those lines:an RPG that teaches you Japanese [lrnj.com]. (please excuse the sig redundancy... not everyone sees sigs)
  • ok. I got like halfway through this. maybe if you made this review into a game, where I get a points for every paragraph I finish...
  • If games are so good for learning then why did he have to write a book about it?
  • This might be a tad off topic but enders game is a great book. Enders shadow is real cool to. And I was going to suggest to anyone that likes the 2 books to find exacly where ender first meets Bean and Vice versa and read the books almost together. Its real cool to see situations for 2 points back to back.
  • I didn't "get" set theory until I played this game [setgame.com], so I'm a believer that this type of learning works in some circumstances.
  • - "Everything i need to know about hacking i learned from a video game."

    Although perhaps not the most ethical suggestion. Probably not that useful either. At least still global underground blacknet 1.0 launches. Key cracker for us pentagon? We got three of those in stock.

    Reminds me of the Netrunner card game.

  • by podperson ( 592944 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @02:49PM (#5828006) Homepage
    Back in 1991 the company I worked for developed a computer-based training course to familiarise crane operators with a newly constructed custom-designed crane. The idea was to minimise down-time on the cranes for training purposes.

    Anyway, I developed the final "integration" test, which was a simulation (2D) of the crane in operation, with controls that worked and an animated crane that did what you told it to. The simulator (aside from winning awards) was a huge hit with the crane operators who would "play it" during their lunch breaks.

    In general, ALL of our CBT software was graphical and scenario based -- in essence we designed our courses as role-playing games where you were a character who needs to learn the stuff we were trying to teach to get through the story in the course. Any course material that was "optional" was available as a resource from a library (in the scenario).

    The issue with simulations as training isn't that they don't work -- they clearly DO work. The issue is that they are often expensive to stage, and require more imagination and creativity to set up than "chalk and talk". And the best simulation -- assuming it's safe -- is the real thing. There's no better way to learn something than to have a task to complete that requires that you know it.
  • Quake: In combat, jumping and throwing knives at your opponent is highly effective. Much more so than any attempts at stealth. In fact, a pogo stick should be standard government issue to all troops. Half-Life: Whenever it's dark, and you come upon a ladder. Don't look up. That's when the face thingy jumps on you. RTCW: As a sniper, your job is to kill the dumbest people on the enemy team. The ones who, even after being shot 20+ times, keep sticking their heads back up. Soldier of Fortune II: In real co
  • Okay, I actually read some of the free exerpts from the book, and ran across this gem, which Prensky clearly agrees with:

    "In addressing the 2000 CGDC, Danny Hillis, the renowned creator of Thinking Machines... said the following: ...I really believe that this is a really important group of people. I get to talk a lot to politicians and scientists and entertainers and they all assume that they are the center of the world, and that they are making the decisions that are going to control how things come
  • Personally, I learned much more playing Robot Odyssey as a child than in all the digital electronics classes I took in college.

    I recently found a simulator and ROM for it, and had my fiancee try it. She was building circuits to navigate sentried mazes within about 5 minutes.

  • by Linknoid ( 46137 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @05:29PM (#5829617) Homepage
    The thing about games for me, it's not so much that they teach actual skills as much as they help me get interested in the subject that they're about. A couple examples:

    Ever try to read the Silmarillion [cts.com]? It's full of tons of different names and places and all kinds of stuff, and it can be tough to wade through it. But after playing Angband [angband.org] for a while, so many things were taken from the Silmarillion, when I finally read the book, the names had a familiarity to them as I try to connect them to what I saw in the game, and in the process, the very dry book becomes interesting. And when I played T.o.M.E. [t-o-m-e.net], the geography of Middle Earth became much more interesting, because I had to navigate it myself in the game.

    Another example: Robo Odyssey [aol.com]. This game was written back in 1984, and it teaches the player about logic gates and electronics design. I wish there were a more modern implementation of something similar (anyone out there know of anything similar?) that let you wire with logic gates to solve puzzles, but it really got me interested in doing logic design. I never did beat the game, and it had bugs, but the concept is great for teaching logic and electronic design.

  • Concept-attainment (Score:3, Insightful)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Monday April 28, 2003 @06:44PM (#5830189) Homepage Journal
    I remember when I was in school, teachers were fond of a technique called "Concept-attainment" where they had individual items, and you were told if something had a property or not. After a while, you had to guess wether or not things had this property.

    The idea was, you could learn about this property 'naturally'. And, I donno it probably worked, but everyone hated it. All the kids couldn't stand it, and we all thought it was a huge waist of time.

    So I think that while innovative learning techniques have their place, if they are not as efficient as regular book learnin' people will just get sick of them and revile them even more.

    The best way to make people understand things and not feel like they're being tortured is to write well, with clarity, humor, and conciseness. It's much easier for people to learn from a well written book or well formatted information then all the power-point slides and cheesy flash games in the world.
  • I am the Program Manager for research project funded by the US Dept. of Ed. in which we are using an online role-playing game (ORPG) setting to teach standards-based Algebra I concepts for middle-school students http://www.physitron.com/web/edutainment.htm). Key to our approach is the requirement that all educational content is motivated by storylines that are self-consistent within the virtual world. I agree that most educational games suck, but that offers no proof that the approach is invalid. I also
  • seems like this was taken off the front page.......
  • Some of the stuff in the PDF's on that site are hillarious. I just wonder if that's the founder, the ambience or the well crafted product of a better than average spin doctor.

If I have not seen as far as others, it is because giants were standing on my shoulders. -- Hal Abelson