The Great Flu: the game

This blog is nothing if not topical, so I spent some time today looking at The Great Flu, a free, browser-based game designed to introduce players to the nature of viral epidemics and means of controlling them.

The game offers players the choice of five levels of flu severity (game difficulty), a €2 billion budget and a range of actions of varying effectiveness, such as sending researchers to afflicted areas, distribution of facemasks, stockpiling vaccines and antivirals, and closing schools, airports and public markets.  Taking various actions triggers various pieces of supporting material such as mocked-up news coverage and messages from governments or regional authorities.  The game also provides interesting information on the nature and spread of earlier flu pandemics.

Even at what is supposed to be the hardest level, the game is very fast to complete and very easy to ‘win’ (it took more effort to infect large parts of Europe for the screengrab above), but while it doesn’t offer much gaming challenge it is a very useful and quite fun resource for understanding the topic.

Via New Scientist.

Under development: Eric Shepherd’s assessment maturity model

Eric Shepherd of Questionmark has been developing an assessment maturity model ‘that provides a way for organisations’ executives and managers to monitor, chart and improve their use of assessments’, and has recently begun to formalise this in an online model.

The model separates the entire assessment process into three key areas (development, delivery and reporting), each comprised of six measures (stakeholder satisfaction, security, strategic alignment, maturity, data management and communication).  Shepherd also identifies four phases of assessment maturity which can help identify the needs and requirements of an organisations (ad hoc, managed, refined and aligned).  Each of these elements is or will be expanded and further developed as the model itself matures, with ongoing development being focused on the project wiki.

There is also a great deal of useful information available on the site, such as learning resources to help assessment managers understand their own processes’ maturity and helpful links to relevant material.

The model is still in development but should already be of value to users and will continue to develop over time.

Thanks to Steve Lay for the heads up!

JISC resources on MUVEs and gaming in education

JISC have released several new publications recently looking at ways in which multi-user virtual environments and alternative reality games can be used in education.

Alternate reality games for orientation, socialisation and induction by Nicola Whitton of Manchester Metropolitan University reports on the experiences of the ARGOSI project, with which our own Scott Wilson was involved.  The project aimed to support student induction in university and acquisition of required library and information skills using a range of resources such as character blogs and supporting websites.  Student participation in the activity was disappointing, although consistent with participation in such games in general, and the report is possibly most useful for its analysis of where things did not go right – for example, the this is not a game aesthetic  that is fundamental to ARG design may actually be rather inappropriate in a resource designed for students who are already in an unfamiliar and potentially challenging environment.  The lessons learned from this project, and the extensive resources produced by it, make this a very useful study.

Second Life is the undisputed MUVE leader in terms of uptake both within and beyond HE,  and three JISC publications look at how newcomers and the more experienced can develop their practice within the system.  Getting started with Second Life offers exactly what you’d expect, a guide to everything new users need to know from how to register and log in for the first time to some guidance on teaching and course design, some advice on how to address institutional concerns, and a few useful pointers to further reading.  One significant omission is the lack of a list of relevant educational sims (impermanent though they may be) and support systems such as the SLED and Virtual Worlds mailing lists – as the guide itself observes, loneliness and the inability to find interesting locations are two of the biggest factors underlying SL’s massive new user attrition rate.

Modelling of Second Life environments reports on the MOOSE project based at the University of Leicester, which looks more deeply at design and delivery issues around learning in MUVEs and identity and socialisation issues arising from the use of avatars in virtual worlds.

Finally, Open habitat: multi-user virtual environments for teaching and learning points to the Open Habitat magazine, an attractive report on how MUVEs were used with students of art and design and philosophy to understand the nature of virtual group interaction and community building.

All these reports provide valuable information and insights into using MUVEs and aspects of gaming in education, and help to demonstrate the increasing significance of both in current educational practice.

Turnitin win copyright decision in US

A group of students have finally lost their case against plagiarism detection service Turnitin with the judgement that Turnitin does not breach students’ copyright by retaining copies of submitted essays.  In particular, The Chronicle reports that

the district-court judge said Turnitin’s actions fell under fair use, ruling that the company ‘makes no use of any work’s particular expressive or creative content beyond the limited use of comparison with other works.’  He also said the new use ‘provides a substantial public benefit.’

While the reasoning is clear, I have always felt a bit uncomfortable about the tension between the undoubted benefits to be gained from Turnitin and the fact that, as a commercial company, Turnitin’s parent company iParadigms is undeniably profiting, albeit indirectly, from other people’s intellectual property.  However, institutions frequently claim IPR rights to their students’ work, and understandably see considerable benefits from requiring the submission of essays to Turnitin.

Plagiarism is undoubtedly a serious issue facing HE, but I think my biggest issue with this is the way in which so many institutions choose to use Turnitin exclusively as a tool to detect and evidence plagiarism.  There is an assumpation inherent in this approach that all students may attempt to cheat.  Retaining papers once they’ve been checked for plagiarism for adding to the database also suggests an assumption that students cannot be trusted not to pass their work on to others.

Other institutions take a more collaborative approach, allowing students to submit their work multiple times to Turnitin and using it as a teaching aid to help students avoid indirect plagiarism and learn how to better develop their essay writing and argumentation skills and understand their relationship to their research sources.  In this approach, all students receive a direct benefit from the software, profiting significantly as learners and writers, and those who may be tempted to intentionally plagiarise may look for other ways to cheat instead.