I’m working on a paper at the moment, for a special issue of the Journal of Canadian Studies. Provisional title is ‘The Digital ‘What If…’: The Potential for Agent Based Modeling in History Computing’. I’m taking my Travellersim agent-based model (which I’ve used for studying the emergence of settlement patterns in the proto-historic Tiber Valley in Italy), and running it on the Upper Ottawa Valley.
“What!” I hear you say, “you can’t be proposing that the situation in Iron Age Italy is the same as 19th Century Canada!”.
I’m not actually proposing that. In the Travellersim model, travel is envisioned as so much distance per day, and that travellers travel to places that are attractive to them (for whatever reason). And how is attractiveness measured? It depends on how many other travellers have already visited that place (making a feedback loop). Travellersim generates likely patterns of interconnections between settlements in a region, focusing on “situation”, the human patterning of social connections over space, rather than “site”, the physical location of the settlements themselves. So long as the rules are framed at the level of an individual agent, I argue that the simulation may be applied to different times and places: as long as they aren’t travelling by rail, airplane, or automobile. The model emphasises the role of individual social interactions for the emergence of larger cultural regions distinct from physical geography.
This is particularly interesting when you consider the artificial boundaries of the Ottawa Valley: the division into Ontario and Quebec. Since about the 1960s, the Quebec provincial government has taken steps to try and curb cultural interaction with our neighbours in Ontario (full disclosure: I’m an Anglo Quebecer living in the Quebec side of the Ottawa Valley). For instance, minor hockey teams in Shawville (Que) are not allowed to play against teams in Renfrew (Ont) or Pembroke (Ont), but are forced (via the blunt instrument of insurance policies!) to travel to Gatineau instead. But when I run this model on pre-railway settlement data, it suggests (amongst other things) cultural connections across the river at particular points: Bristol-Arnprior, Campbell’s Bay/Calumet Island – Beachburg, Allumettes Island/Chapeau-Pembroke.
This makes sense. Families span both sides of the river; my grandfather (who lived in Bristol), used to cross the ice in the winter time to do his shopping and so on in Arnprior. Bricks in the farmhouses in Bristol Township tend to come from Arnprior brickyards (when this can be determined), than from the Shawville brickyards (in the next township to the west, Clarendon).
So in this paper, I’m looking at
- what patterns does the model suggest;
- is there historical support for these patterns, or are they artefacts of the model (if they are artefacts, I’ll have to determine what’s going on, and why, and see if the model can be salvaged!)
- assuming that there is historical support, I’ll then explore how these emergent cultural spaces map against political boundaries
- and finish up by seeing if there are historical artefacts that can be explained with reference to the conflict between the cultural and political spaces.
A tall order, non?
I’ve begun with Bristol Township. The data I’m using comes from a heritage survey I did in 2003; 46 points based on:
-churches -> on land donated by citizens, rather than located by Church organisations to take advantage of population
Given this landscape, what sort of territories emerge? Do they correspond with ‘zones’ that make sense in later history? Which areas become ‘centres’, and do they correspond with actual village/town development?
Picture of start of model below (Bristol township is not square shaped, but more triangular, tapering to an almost point in the north):
And here is the model after a few time-ticks:
The visual output is not the actual data that gets analysed; it’s more of a short-hand for representing which sites were the most attractive to travellers. I use the tools of social network analysis to evaluate the underlying networks between sites, and between travellers, to work out the actual ‘zones’ (see my paper in CAA 2006 for all the nitty gritty).
Anyway, the paper isn’t due until December; today just felt like a day to get working on it. I am, as ever, interested in what people think about this work…
In the course of doing some writing on why making games and modifications for existing games is a much better educational endeavour than simply playing historically-themed games (it seemed much more clever when expressed in 7000 words than 20), I came across the following post on Rob MacDougall’s blog which covers some of what I’m thinking:
In simpler language, Civilization’s game play erases its own historical content. Learning to play means learning to ignore all the stuff that makes it a game about history and not about, say, fighting aliens. One could easily program a different game with a different set of ideological assumptions—Galloway imagines a “People’s Civilization” game by Howard Zinn—and see precisely the same de-historicizing effect. Mastering the simulation game necessarily involves a journey away from reality towards abstraction, away from history towards code.
However, I don’t know whether there’s anything particularly unique to computer games about that idea – isn’t any game, when you really get down to it, about mastering the mechanics of the game, the rules? (whether or not those rules are expressed mathematically or in a rule-book is immaterial I should think).
Anyway, there’s a lot more on his blog worth a longer look! Ultimately, MacDougall concludes that what one should do is get the students to design their own game. We’ve been doing just that at the Simulating History project at Brock for some time; we’ve got a workable beta up and running, but man! there’s a lot of work involved. My role in that project (making the game) is more of a background reviewer-type guy; I’m not at the coalface.
Those were the topics covered by the keynote, Sugata Mitra, at the recent MadLat conference in Manitoba, in his keynote address (Self Organising Systems in Education) and his later session, Instructional Robotics. He began with a contentious statement: that the future of the world economy lies with raising the quality of education in the rural peripheries. He illustrated this by way of parable: western companies have long been installing call centres in cities like New Delhi, to take advantage of low-cost, english-speaking and educated workers. But, as wages slowly grew, the call centres got re-located further from the core. The workers there weren’t quite as well educated, but could do the job. The same pattern repeated, and the call centres moved further and further out – and the quality of english declined inexorably.
Mitra asked himself, why is the education in these remote places not providing decent results? He went out, and performed standardised tests on students at schools from 60 to 260 km distant from the urban core. His graph showed a steep drop the further out. Now why was that? he wondered. In his research, he showed that the strongest positive correlation with the poor results was the teachers’ own desire (or lack of) to be in that school. The poorest schools were not necessarily the most financially poor, but the ones where the teachers perceived that they were working in a remote undesirable area. Poor motivation = poor results.
Mitra found that ‘remoteness’ was not just geographical. In the UK, he performed the same study, and found that the presence of subsidised housing (council flats/estates) was as strong an indicator of teachers’ desire to be somewhere else – hence poor results at the school.
The future of the economy in the developing and developed world, Mitra suggested, is in improving the education of these ‘remote’ (whether geographically or socio-economically) areas, since these are the areas with the lowest labour costs. Technology can address this problem, but why do we always test new technologies in the city schools, where the results will be good anyway?, he asked.
His first presentation then was about the hole-in-the-wall computer experiment, where he provided computers to remote regions (setting them up so that they would run no matter what the environmental conditions). Typically, kids were on the machines within minutes of their installation, punching buttons and moving the mouse, exploring what would happen. These children had no English, but as they gathered around the computer, a kind of self-organising educational ecosystem would emerge, with rings of children discussing what was on the screen, offering suggestions of what to do next to the one or two children actually punching the buttons. Mitra installed one such computer, went away for three months, and when he came back, the children said, ‘Please sir, we need a faster processor and more RAM’! They were teaching themselves English so that they could play games and find out information.
(He suggested, incidentally, that as long as computers were in public places, kids wouldn’t get into the seamy side of the internet: no computers in kids’ bedrooms or you’re asking for trouble! Also, that schools that provide one computer per student were not going to get as good results as when there is one computer per 5 or 6 students. I wonder what the one-laptop-per-child people’d make of that?)
His second presentation addressed the problem of teachers not wanting to be in particular regions: “Is it possible for teachers to live in areas that they prefer and still be ‘present’ in schools where they do not, physically, wish to go?”.
This led to a discussion of ‘presence’- what is the main difference between in-class and online education? The presence of a teacher. So how can presence be effectively created for distance/online education? In experiments, Mitra has found that Skype could be used effectively under the following circumstances:
- uninterrupted, reliable, >1 Mbps bandwidth at the teacher and student locations
- a projection system at both ends providing near life size images of the teacher and learners (in his presentation, Mitra phoned up an English teacher in Argentina and showed the difference in ‘presence’ between mere voice, small-screen projection, and life-sized projection using Skype and the video projector – it was quite astonishing!)
- a directional microphone, such as those on most camcorders, that doesn’t pick up feedback, at both locations,
- good lighting
Mitra discussed some future experiments he is going to conduct, where he will try to emulate the physical environment – if it’s hot and humid in Bangalore, the heating & humidity control in the teacher’s office back in the UK should be ramped up appropriately…
He finished his presentation by discussing the ultimate iteration of telepresence: a physical machine, controlled by the remote teacher. Such things already exist, like the Mars Rover, or the deep-sea submersibles that took pictures of the Titanic. Mitra wants to hook up a Roomba-like robot to be controlled by the remote teacher. It will have a screen on it showing the teacher’s head, with directional audio and sound control… in this way, the teacher’s tele-presence can be remotely projected around the room as the robot goes wherever the teacher wants. No more cheating on distance ed exams!
I haven’t done justice, in this short report, to everything Mitra talked about, but I came away from his instructional robotics presentation convinced that this man is going to transform how distance ed is carried out. He’s current at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, so keep your eyes peeled for interesting things from that quarter.
Rossella is a reporter for the Discovery Channel, and maintains a blog about the latest happenings in the world of archaeology. Recently, she’s been crafting a ‘Chamber of Secrets’ that recreates the passage from the world of the living to the world of the dead – or at least, how that was conceived in the ‘Amduat – the Book of the Secret Chamber’ and ‘the Book of Gates’. These funerary texts were thought to contain, according to Rossella, the secret to eternal life. Her posts about the creation process are here:
Yesterday, Rossella took me on a guided tour of her new zone in Second Life, and guided me through the Secret Chamber. It was most impressive, and struck me as an excellent example of how the ‘good-enough’ virtuality of Second Life can be used archaeologically. As I travelled through the Secret Chamber, I was reminded of caves, mithrae, and other secret places used for initiation rites in ancient cultures. It was quite a visceral experience, actually! Certainly, experiencing an Egyptian conception of the afterlife (or the road to it) carried much more force than simply reading about it…
Here’re a pic from my journey to the afterlife…
And here’s the link to a video Rossella made to give some of the flavour of the jouney.
Finally, cheers to Rossella for a well-done build in Second Life!
Recently, in the Escapist, an article entitle ‘Quibus lusoribus bono?‘ appeared, by Roger Travis, a Classicist at the University of Connecticut. On his blog site, he argues that “video games are actually ancient, [...] they reawaken the anicent oral epic tradition represented above all by the epics of the Homeric tradition, the Iliad and the Odyssey.” I am going to have to go carefully through his posts, because this is a great argument to make… anyway – in his Escapist piece, Travis writes:
The problem with game studies – the thing that gives rise to opinions like Wilson’s – is that the effort to create and maintain the discipline is keeping gaming from winning the respect it deserves. Against all appearances, scholars are pursuing game studies to the detriment of gamer culture.
By pretending that game studies stands alone as a unified discipline rather than at the nexus of various other fields, scholars of game studies (and those of departments that call themselves things like “digital media studies”) are institutionalizing exactly what Wilson feels: antipathy to the real culture of gaming. The more entrenched the notion becomes that gamers are abnormal and defective, the longer it will take for real works of art like Sins of a Solar Empire, BioShock and, yes, even Halo to vindicate gaming as a worthwhile pursuit.
Comments, critiques and a bit of old-style flaming are all over the games-related blogosphere; but for an interesting dialogue, see Ian Bogost – whom Travis refers to on a number of occasions in his piece – at “A Response to Roger Travis who misconstrues my work and that of my colleagues“.
For the most part, the discussion is moderate in tone, though clearly Travis has upset the apple cart – one commenter writes:
Whatever is said here, it boils down to this: Roger, do you let people with Marketing degrees tell you how to teach “Topics in Advanced Latin”? I’m guessing you don’t. Why is acceptable for you to tell Ian how to do his? I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t.
It’s one thing to question the legitimacy of a professional. It’s another to question the legitimacy of a profession. I really don’t think you want to open that can of worms. While I can see the worth of the classics and how they are basically the basis of all modern thought, I’m thinking it’s probably hard for payroll to justify paying your obviously bloated salary.
I suppose it’s only a matter of time before somebody invokes the Nazis. But in the meantime, the last word by Travis on Ian Bogost’s blog (and then the conversation switches to the forums at the Escapist):
“1. I see the analogy of a marketing professional telling me how to do classics as very unpersuasive. Ian and I work the same job, more or less, and we both (I’m sure) spend time on committees where we’re doing, intramurally, precisely what we’re doing publicly in this discussion. The suggestion that my salary is bloated would have made me laugh if my salary weren’t such a sad little thing.”
And finally, for completeness, here’s the link to the Escapist forum discussion.
So… what do I make of all of this? I admit, I got a bit lost in the original article, since I haven’t read all of the related pieces (nor indeed, the one to which Travis was originally responding). In essence, it looked as if Travis was warning of the danger of academics sucking the fun out of games (which may be to simplify). But that’s something every discipline or subject needs to watch out for, the people who take things too seriously. Archaeology sure has a hard time paying the bills, but at least it’s still fun to do…
Just got back, will post more when I have a moment – keynote speaker was excellent, and his session on ‘Instructional Robotics’ was fantastic, though poorly attended. I expect people were put off by the title… but imagine a remotely operated vehicle, armed with camera, directional microphone, and wee video screen roaming the aisles of a distance-ed classroom, and you get the picture…
My presentation was well attended, which made a nice change from the Classics conferences I’ve gone to and given an online learning or games-related paper. Typically, the classicists are just not interested – there’ll be me, the moderator, the other two presenters, and the guy who thought that this was a session on Attic pottery….
Anyway, one nice comment at the end of my paper was along the lines of, ‘it’s very interesting to see someone actually implementing games or Second Life, and not just talking about the theoretical side of things!’ In truth, I’m not that far removed from the theoretical side, though I have subjected students to some of my experiments.
Right. Presentation is here, designed and implemented courtesy of Flypaper, whom I thanked in my talk. It might not live at that location for too long, in which case I’ll post it somewhere else, if necessary.
A few posts ago I put up the raw data from my xrd analysis of the South Etruria Survey Brick Stamp collection conserved at the British School at Rome, suggesting that it might be, amongst other things, useful in teaching archaeological statistics… happily, it is being used in just that fashion at the Quantitative Archaeology Wiki.
The wiki seems to be maintained by scholars in Italy, but I’m not sure. One of their projects is to update the exercises in Fletcher and Lock’s “Digging Numbers”. I still have that on my bookshelf – it was the required text in Archae 341 at WLU, back in ’96… (I note also that one of the banner images from the Laurier archae website is of an old classmate in his long-haired days, who is now a lecturer at the University of Western Ontario…nice one, Marty!)
I love the circularity of the internet sometimes. My post on Flypaper got picked up by an automatic blog aggregator, and was put on “Hey Jude” under a posting on ‘The Problem With Powerpoint’. Somebody clicked on that, and wordpress stats told me about it. So I went to the post, and lo! there was this extremely well done powerpoint on ‘Dodging Bullets in Presentations’ by Rowan Manahan. Whether you use Flypaper, Powerpoint, or something else, the lessons here are extremely good. Maybe all conference presenters should view this one before they do their papers…! I know I’ve been guilty by times…
Am going to sunny Winnipeg next week (think it’s stopped snowing), for the MADLaT 2008 conference, ‘E-Learning Comes Together‘
I’m presenting in Session 7, abstract below; my presentation might actually match the abstract. We’re using Flypaper to do our multimedia – they’ve been really great, crafting a template for us to use, and helping out with all the fiddlybits.
The Use of Moodle, Virtual Reality and Other Emerging Technologies in Online Classics Teaching
Robert Welch University is an entirely online Liberal Arts university in Appleton, Wisconsin which was approved as a degree-granting institution in 2005.
Those of us who start an online university may believe the theory “If we build it, they will come.” Students may come, but will e-learning come together for them? Once we have set up the online courses and basic communication, we must ask ourselves whether meaningful communication and class participation are actually occurring. Our students find emerging technology appealing, particularly VOIP and user-created content. How can we incorporate advances in communication and the participative web in our teaching practices?
This paper recounts how Robert Welch University evolved from simple document delivery with its Moodle learning management system (html pages, PowerPoint, mp3 files) and basic communication (asynchronous forums and real-time chat) to an immersive learning environment featuring wikis, Skype, webcam, game-based learning, YouTube videos and Second Life in order to make students active participants in their own learning.
All educators face the challenge of how to encourage students to engage with the material, but online educators face special challenges such as how to meet the needs of a diverse blend of non-traditional students and how to foster a sense of community between instructors and students.
At RWU we have come to realize that even distance learners need a social setting for their learning and that students may benefit from the kind of immersive environment which a persistent virtual world can provide. Our students will collaborate online in Second Life as they reconstruct the ruins, practice archaeological field skills and perform the Greek tragedy which they are translating.