I went to the annual conference for the National Association for Research in Science Teaching (NARST) for the first time last month and then to the annual conference for the American Educational Research Association (AERA) right afterwards. In fact, I flew directly from one conference (Orlando) to the other (New Orleans). The short story is that AERA is much bigger than NARST, that Orlando surprisingly kind of sucks for a conference due to horrible food choices and no public transportation or sidewalks, and that New Orleans during the French Quarter music festival is amazingly awesome.

For NARST, I was invited to present something about the games for science learning work I’m now doing in collaboration with the Center for Game Science. Basically, CGS is the new center that Zoran Popovic and Seth Cooper are directing in UW’s Computer Science & Engineering department. They’ve partnered with the LIFE Center, funded by DARPA, to look at player learning with their math and science games, including Refraction and Foldit. And I’m the postdoc on the LIFE side of the team! 🙂

Anyway, the presentation (below) that I gave details plans of ours to look at the gaming practice in and around Foldit. Included in these plans, we’ll look at expert players and expert scientists/professionals and see if gaming practice relates to scientific practice. We also plan to look at how the game is being incorporated into classroom practice at both the high school and undergraduate level.

The session I was in was organized by the awesome Sandy Martell (UWM) and included talks from others who are looking at using digital technologies for science learning in informal contexts. All of us were essentially talking about games, and the speakers included Doug Clark (Vanderbilt), Alex Games (MSU), Robb Lindgren (UCF), Debora B. Wisneski (UWM), Heather T. Zimmerman (Penn State), Susan M. Land (Penn State), and Arlene De Strulle (NSF), with Reed Stevens (Northwestern) as our discussant. Well, that was the plan, anyway. A bevy of technical issues hit our session:

  1. Heather’s and Susan’s flight was delayed enough that they couldn’t make it.
  2. Arlene’s budget release didn’t come through in time or something so she couldn’t make it.
  3. Both Debora and Alex Skyped in.
  4. We were worried about Sandy’s laptop speaker volume, so I went back to my room real quick to grab a mini-jack (headphones) extension cable.
  5. Once getting the projector’s audio set up, we discovered that her laptop speakers were louder!
  6. Everything was set to go with Alex and Debora piping through Sandy’s laptop when their audio started being really, really noisy.
  7. I argued that the Skypers should go first so we could mute them for the remainder of the session.
  8. Then the audio died for some reason.
  9. We ended up deciding to revert to doing the Skypers last.
  10. So then I was going to go but couldn’t find my presentation on Sandy’s computer since the projector was cutting off her screen.
  11. So then I used my own computer, which I had to plug in since it was dying. This took me a moment since I thought maybe we should use my laptop for the Skype call, too, and I had to move back and forth between where I thought the laptop should be and where the video cable terminated.
  12. Finally, we all did our presentations, starting about 15 min late.
  13. Once the Skypers started, the audio died again. We could hear them but not them us.
  14. In the end, it went as well as these things tend to when you’re doing a presentation on technology. 😉

While at NARST, Phil asked me to set up a NARST 2011 Google doc so that the Everyday Science & Technology Group (ESTG) could take collaborative notes. Unfortunately, the wifi at the conference was spotty, and I think only I ended up taking notes. Being able to tether to my Android phone is both a blessing and a curse. 🙂 At one point, I tweeted the link so that anyone at the conference (or any of my Twitter followers) could take notes with me. I think there were two other Twitter users at the conference, though… heh.

Seeing the difficulty of getting the collab notes to reach critical mass at NARST prompted me to start hitting Twitter pretty heavily a few days before flying to New Orleans. I discussed with a group of other Twitterers pros and cons of various collaborative note-taking tools. Ideally, we’d be able to add comments or highlights to the existing online program. This way it would be part of the official online program that *everyone* would see. Unfortunately, there’s no way that was going to happen on such short notice, and I have serious doubts about AERA’s technical agility.

So we had to come up with a third-party, crowd-sourced solution. The problem with a Google doc is that it would quickly become cumbersome given how large AERA is. There’s something like 100 sessions or events going on at the same time! (Yes, 100. I just double-checked and can’t believe it either. Holy shit! Yes, I know, right?? Wow.) If we hit critical mass, which we had no way of knowing if it would happen, Google doc wasn’t scalable… Another thought was to use Google side-wiki. But a couple of us Twitterers were using Android tablets and side-wiki didn’t really work well with our devices. (LOL. Yeah, a google thing not working with a google thing.. I know..) A third option was to create a traditional wiki for AERA 2011 where we could add a new page for each session that someone was taking notes on. Finally, we settled on a combination of AERA 2011 Google doc and a AERA 2011 wiki. This way immediate notes could be taken which would then be migrated over to the wiki once that session was over.

I think it’s a great solution. Unfortunately, though not as bad as last year, connectivity during AERA was a problem, so we didn’t really get that much participation. I ended up migrating things over at end of day rather than end of session. Still, Mike Cole thanked me for the wiki and note-taking efforts on the xmca mailing list. 🙂

I think we’ll have to work earlier with the conference organizers to get some sort official collaborative note-taking movement going. Maybe it being in Vancouver next year means I can help out better…

Anyway, AERA was amazingly awesome! I didn’t have a bad meal at New Orleans (and yes, that’s how I judge how awesome a conference is :p). Seriously, I met and/or caught up with so many friends and colleagues from other places, got exposed to a ton of new ideas, and generally had a really good time. I also presented two things (below) and chaired a symposium on the social nature of gaming expertise.

The enrollment of a new technology and the subsequent redistribution of roles and responsibilities in an online game (paper) (handout)

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