About denisemyers

I am a training & development project manager for Jack in the Box Inc., a quick-serve restaurant chain with over 2000 stores, mostly in the western U.S. My background is in graphic design and multimedia development, but I have recently expanded my involvment into all areas of instructional design. I am currently working toward my Master's in Ed Tech at SDSU. My husband is a teacher working with at-risk high school boys within the court schools system in San Diego. Therefore, in addition to corporate learning projects that are work related, I also enjoy working on K-12 projects inspired by my husband's work.

The Joy of Making Music

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I hate to admit it, but I actually don’t like playing e-games.  I stink at using controllers, I absolutely hate video arcade game sound effects (like nails on a chalkboard), and I can’t think of anything that would motivate me to play a game like Super Mario, WOW… even SIMs. (I really am an old fart, aren’t I? Oh well.) I can only think of one mainstream game that I enjoy playing now and then, and that’s Rock Band. I just pick up the microphone and sing along with my favorite songs from the 70’s and 80’s.

Rock Band is the latest creation of Harmonix (now owned by Viacom, Inc.) which was founded in 1995 by two computer music engineers from MIT (Alex Rigopulos and Eran Egozy)who set out to “create new ways for non-musicians to experience the unique joy that comes from making music.” Their first efforts were interactive theme park attractions that allowed non-musicians to create improvised computer music, including one at Epcot Center.

Going back to their vision statement, “the unique joy that comes from making music” is, I believe, a key motivator in this ground-breaking game. I think this lies somewhere in the 5th tier of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization. Of course the game designers have also incoprated many other motivators falling within the 4th tier (esteem) including cheering/booing crowds and achieving goals which unlock new venues, repertoire, costumes and money for the band. However, I truly feel when playing this game, that it goes beyond these usual esteem-based motivators. The players truly feel that joy of making music, even though it is somewhat artificial. It takes the joy of listening to music performed by others to a whole new level that is ultimately more rewarding.

Speed Scrabble AKA Bananagrams

In the break room at my office there’s a little kitchen. A fridge, couple of microwaves, toasters, vending machines, sink…pretty much what you’d expect.  But there’s also a secret stash of board games in one of the cupboards. Believe it or not, a board-gaming club of sorts has evolved, meeting a few times every week at lunch when the mood strikes after Lean Cuisines and ham sandwiches are quickly consumed.

First it was Mexican Train (a dominoes variation), then it was Rummikub. Favorite games were chosen in streaks, then we’d get bored and search the cupboard for something different.  One day, my friend Deb asks “Do we have Scrabble?”  Everyone groans, “It’s boring! It takes too long!”  “No!” she says, “I know a different way to play that’s really fun!” We’re skeptical, but we trust her, Deb knows what’s fun. Sure enough, we became addicted. Now, it’s rare that we play anything else.

What is this different way to play Scrabble that’s actually fun and addictive? Deb called it Speed Scrabble (not to be confused with playing regular Scrabble with a timer).

Here’s how you play:

  1. Leave the board and the little tile-shelves in the box.
  2. Turn all the tiles upside down in the center of the table.
  3. Each player takes 7 tiles.
  4. Someone says “go!” and each player flips their tiles right-side-up and begins trying to create their own little crossword puzzle in front of them with their 7 tiles.
  5. When someone first incorporates all 7 tiles into a crossword pattern, they yell “pull” and everyone has to take one more tile.
  6. At anytime, players can rework their crossword patterns, they are not stuck with their original arrangement.
  7. This continues until there are no more tiles in the middle, and the first person using all their tiles wins the round. Or, if you feel like doing a little math, the player with the most points at this point wins (points in crossword minus points not used). We never feel like doing the math!
  8. Depending on how many players, rounds can last from 5 to 20 minutes.

How is this more fun than Scrabble?

This game offers all the same educational benefits as Scrabble, but it is more fast-paced and fun.  Each player is very focused on building words as quickly as possible, feeling the pressure as other players force them draw more tiles.  As the tiles in the middle dwindle, the frantic pace of the game increases even more. Because the rounds are short, there is plenty of opportunity for losers to win on another round. This keeps the game light and engaging for children and adults. After doing a little research I found that there are actually a few marketed versions of this game out there. Two similar versions created in the 90’s – Pick Two! and Take Two, and one created in 2006 called Bananagrams. By the way, this is a great illustration of how games are routinely copied or reinvented.

Speed Scrabble

Click to see video of family playing Speed Scrabble

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Click to see video of family playing regular Scrabble

I thought it was interesting that game designers and game players have created other versions of Scrabble. In fact, there is an entire page on Wikipedia on Scrabble Variants. Let’s face it, Scrabble is a great classic game, but perhaps is not always the most fun game in the world. Check out these two videos of families playing standard Scrabble versus this modified version.

What we can learn from alternate rules…

Looking at each of the variants of Scrabble outlined on Wikipedia might serve as a great resource for us as we work on modifying our game designs to increase the fun factor.  What other games can you think of that seem to have multiple variations?  Think about a time when you played a common game with another family or group of friends, and they played it differently then you.  Was it better? Why?

Michael Allen, Adversary of Boredom in e-Learning

Good e-learning has to engage the heart of the learner (in the first minute), brain and stomach. Just one of the three is not enough. After all we want long term changes of behavior!  - Michael Allen

"Too much of e-learning produced today is just pushing out knowledge, leaving learners bored to death or too overwhelmed to have any impact on business outcomes." - Michael Allen

A few years ago, a coworker got us all reading this book – Michael Allen’s Guide to e-Learning. Does anyone remember AuthorwareMichael Allen was the creator of this flowchart-based authoring tool still (but not for much longer) available from Adobe.  These days, in addition to writing, consulting and speaking on e-learning, Dr. Allen runs a company called Allen Interactions Inc. which is one of the leading providers of custom e-learning solutions for workforce training and performance improvement. The company is especially known for designing highly effective simulations and games. Even programs that could not really be defined as games, feel game-like in that they are fun, interactive and engaging.

According to his book, a key strategy used by Allen Interactions is the use of design teams that include the instructional designer, SME and/or client, artist and programmer. Instead of having an instructional designer conduct analysis, then work in a vacuum to create design specs for artists and programmers to follow, the process is collaborative from start to finish. The team uses a process called “successive approximation” which is a micro-cycled version of ADDIE. Beginning with a very rough prototype, the team creates several iterations of the program – allowing the design to unfold and improve with each version. All members of the design team need to be intimately involved throughout the entire life of the project for this to work.

I’ve found at my workplace, it is very difficult to work in this way (although we’ve tried). I think this is due to the fact that we have several Instructional Designers and only a few multimedia team members, who are simply spread to thin to be truly involved in the design process.  I’m excited to have the opportunity to work in this way on our projects for this class, and am interested to hear if others have experienced this type of process on the job.