Paper: Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds

As I work through my Educational Technology Masters Degree, one of the things I’m very interested in is the use of video games for educational purposes.  So when I saw this article (pdf) entitled “Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds” a few months ago, I couldn’t wait to read it.

This particular study focused on the users of the popular massive multiplayer online role playing game (mmorpg) World of Warcraft, and specifically an online discussion forum used by players to communicate.  The abstract sums up their findings:

Eighty-six percent of the forum discussions were posts engaged in “social knowledge construction” rather than social banter. Over half of the posts evidenced systems based reasoning, one in ten evidenced model-based reasoning, and 65% displayed an evaluative epistemology in which knowledge is treated as an open-ended process of evaluation and argument.

The paper itself it very accessible, and doesn’t take long to read.  The findings are surprising, and I think important for educators to be aware of.  Since I’m not much of a gamer, I was unaware of the level of detail and care gamers put into playing this game, although after reading “Everything Bad is Good For You” last fall, this really shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.  From the paper, here is an example of what I’m talking about:

The calculations correctly show that mind flay [spell]
receives just as much +damage percentage as mind
blast. However mind blast has a 1.5 second cast time,
and mind flay has a 3 second cast time. And therefore
mind flay receives half the dps [damage per second]
boost it should. (post #2609.43)

There are two things about this kind of thinking that really demonstrates something I hope I can foster in my own classroom: the depth of analysis, and social knowledge construction.  The user in this case, wasn’t satisfied by the damages given by a particular attack; they took it a step further and came up with their own method of identifying what kind attack is better (damage per second).  While this particular example seems simple, since it only involves one issue (a single tactical decision), it’s important to realize that this is just a piece of a much larger discussion that involved many more variables. From later in the paper, here is an example of a more complicated, user generated equation:

For Mindflay, SW:P, and presumpably VT [3 priest spells]:

Damage = (base_spell_damage + modifier * damage_gear) *darkness * weaving * shadowform *misery

The second thing they did was post their analysis in a forum, generating discussion and debate.

It was this paper that inspired me last semester, when I was assigned to create a lesson plan that integrated some form of technology, to use Schorched3D as a way for students to create models for learning about trajectory and range.  While I wasn’t able to give this lesson to actual students, and it’s outside the field I actually teach, I think this kind of integration will be necessary in the classrooms of today and tomorrow.

For further reading, there is a wealth of information to be found in the citations of this article.  I also recommend the book “Everything Bad is Good for You.”  Finally, check out Constance Steinkuehler’s website.  She’s done a lot of great work in this area.

References

  1. Steinkeuhler, Constance & Duncan, Sean (2008). Scientific Habits of Mind in Virtual Worlds Journal of Science Education and Technology, 17 (6), 530-543

Implicit Acceptance of Evolution as Fact

Hulu recently made Carl Sagan‘s famous PBS documentary series Cosmos available for free viewing online.  If you’ve never seen it, I highly recommend watching it.  It is the best documentary series I’ve ever seen, and for me, it was a complete life changer.  There is a moment in the last episode of the series that completely shattered some cognitive dissonance that had been building up for months: the amount of evidence for evolution, versus my dogmatic rejection of it.  The moment is just a simple statement:  “[we] accepted the products of science, but not it’s methods.”  The intensity I felt in that moment has been rarely replicated.  It perfectly described my actions in a way that was undeniable, but also provided the solution: drop my dogmatic beliefs in favor of evidence based knowledge.

Since that time, I sometimes forget what it’s like for people who reject evolution.  Sometimes, as hard as it is to believe, I forget that anyone actually rejects evolution.  It’s so obvious to me now, that I forge that there are other perspectives out there.  There are probably many causes for this, but there is one that I want to focus on for this post:  Nearly everyone benefitting from modern technology has implicitly accepted evolution.

The theory of evolution was a breakthrough of truly monumental proportions, and today, it’s applications have extended well beyond just academic biology.  For example, it’s used in forensic science to help solve crimes.  How many people accept DNA evidence, but don’t realize that without the theory of evolution, we wouldn’t be able to analyze DNA?  How many people use materials everyday that were designed using principals derived from the theory of evolution?

How many people wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for the theory of evolution?  Modern medicine depends on an understanding of evolution.  If the theory of evolution didn’t accurately reflect reality, modern medicine would not be successful at all.  Instead, we see life expectancy growing at an exponential rate.

Shouldn’t someone who truly believes evolution wrong and even evil, reject all these things? If they’re truly dedicated to their beliefs, they should.  Instead, we see their rational side appear when they need it.  If they’re sick, they ignore the man behind the curtain, and implicitly accept the benefits of evidence-based knowledge.  Next time I’m pulled back down to earth by someone who doesn’t believe in evolution, I just want to ask them this:  then why do you accept it’s products?

God is not Necessary

adamandgod

It was once nearly universal that people believed that god existed, and that without god, life would be chaos.  That time is in the past.  Recent data has shown that somewhere between fifteen and twenty percent of americans are non-religious, placing this group in second place in terms of population.  Only Christianity as a group can claim higher numbers.  But that’s tricky, because Christians are great at fighting between themselves.  Are the Catholics really Christians?  How about Calvinists?  Or Mormons?  Or Fundamentalist? Or evangelicals?  When you break down Christianity into incompatible subgroups that love to hate each other, the non-religious numbers more than many of them.  There’s all sorts of interesting things to consider about these statistics, but I’ll have to take those up in another post.  This post it aimed at posing a simple question:

In a nation where around one out of every six people are non-religious, why are things as ordered as they are?

While you’re thinking about that, consider these numbers as well.  If you don’t want to take the time to read it, it talks about the disparity between the religious percentages in society and in prison.  Outside of prison, the non-religious number one out of six.  Inside prison, the non-religious number around one in 500.  If it’s true that non-belief leads to chaos and anarchy, why aren’t the prisons overflowing with the non-religious?  Why are our prisons instead overflowing with people who claim belief in god?

Another example is Norway.  Norway is over 70% atheist.  According to the theory that god is necessary for morality and meaning, we would expect Norway to be anarchy and a hell hole.  But that is not the case.  Norway is one of the most responsible and peaceful nations in the world.   The hypothesis that god is necessary for morality and meaning is falsified by this evidence.

The fact of the matter is that god is not necessary for living a moral and meaningful life.

Is god necessary for you to love your family?  If you discovered that god did not exist, would you suddenly hate your wife, your husband, your sister, or your brother?  How about your children?  Would you kick them to the curb if you discovered Richard Dawkins is correct, and god was only a delusion?

Would you find your hobbies suddenly unfulfilling?  Would fishing become a chore?  Or hiking?  Or watching your favorite sports team?

Would you no longer donate to charity?  Would you ignore someone broken down on the side of the road?  Would you decide not to help your neighbor change their tire?

Would you decide that it’s now okay to steal whatever you want, to rape and murder whoever you want?

If you’re anything like everyone I know, your answer to every one of those questions is ‘no.’  And that’s my point.  God isn’t necessary for any of those things.  So let’s stop pretending that it is.  I know how the religious are stuck to their beliefs, but please, why don’t you reconsider this particular belief.

Meta

Heisenberg, Goedel, and Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg says, “From the fact that we are all here I can infer that this is a joke, but cannot determine whether or not the joke is funny.” Goedel says, “No, we can’t tell if the joke is funny because we’re inside it–if we could observe ourselves from outside, we would know.” and Chomsky just shakes his head sadly. “No, no,” he says, “The joke is funny. You’re just telling it wrong.”


On a side note, I have several blog entries in the works and hope to post my review of “Proust was a Neuroscientist” sometime soon.  The short of it: I highly recommend this book.  I’m now reading a biography of Houdini which is really good, and has once again ignited my interest in magic.  Reading this book, I discovered a rather funny secret about myself.