Ipods and Iphones: ARIS implementations on the cheap

I’ve written previously about the issue of access when it comes to deploying mobile stuff like ARIS, specifically that ipod touches have a lot going for them in this regard. I’ve also written about the specific shortcomings of ipod touches compared to iphones in terms of what ARIS needs, and my solutions to those problems. Over the last week or so it occurred to me that a new solution might be entering the marketplace. Used iphones.

Apple sold a lot of iphone 4s’s this last month. Not all of those people were buying an iphone for the first time. So what happens to their iphone 3GSs? Anecdotally, they end up with the kids. I’ve also seen ads from companies who buy them for resale. But what if we could set up a donation program so that schools or other institutions could make these devices available to children? I imagine we could advertise it like our public radio station advertises old car donations. You get a tax credit, and the feeling that you’re doing good, and some school program can do cool new stuff because they now have enough mobile devices to provide access. I imagine this could be done on a variety of levels from a single teacher to a massive, Apple-led national program, and the idea of schools ending up with slightly out of date Apples is a well-worn one in this country.

The upgrading process could be a major source of devices for those trying to enact mobile programs without much money.

Of course, one of the problems with iphones is that they’re not really intended to be used unactivated. Today, John Gordon wrote a brief post about how to use an unactivated iphone. The trick to make it easy is retaining the original SIM card that was used to activate it. I don’t know what hoops we’ll have to jump through for CDMA activated phones. He also says that Face Time and iMessage work just fine in this case. I’ve also seen cut-rate SIM cards with ad-hoc service being advertised, I believe from a company that piggy backs on T-Mobile’s network. Cheap 2G data without strings attached is better than none.

Playing Digital Graffiti Gallery

This fall, Alyssa Concha and I have had a lot of fun playing Digital Graffiti Gallery, an ARIS game. The above shot is from our most recent outing, where we found a piece reminiscent of the one that began the game (below) but is now long gone. Digital Graffiti Gallery is a good example of an activity that ARIS can support whose robustness doesn’t really come from what the game’s author put into ARIS, but rather the way in which ARIS mediates an interaction that is pregnant in the place. It is also a good way to begin talking about some of the larger pedagogical aims involved in this work.


Digital Graffiti Gallery


Digital Graffiti Gallery was put together by Ivan Kenarov, a student in the first run of my class, Local Games in ABQ. The idea is pretty simple. There’s a lot of graffiti on the UNM campus, and some of it is very good. Whether it has something to say, or whether it is a simple tag, it will likely be painted over within a week. Digital Graffiti Gallery lets us record this ephemeral art and keep it in place.

The authored ARIS content is really pretty minimal, just enough to (maybe) get a player into the idea of how they can contribute. A player contributes by firing up the game, finding graffiti, using the camera tab to take a picture, and finally dropping the resulting item from their inventory. Eventually, the game map fills in with art that is no longer present in real life but can nonetheless be viewed by future visitors. Hence, Digital Graffiti Gallery.

Not a lot happened with the game when it was first created. Over the last year I have mentioned it fairly often as a way to easily describe what some of the data collection features being put into ARIS might be used for. When Alyssa and I began teaching the second run of the local games class, I decided we should play the game very visibly as the class wandered around campus during our initial brainstorms. The idea was to show what it might look like to engage in a place-based game, and that this wasn’t an abstraction but that there already were student-made, playable games all around them. Along the way, Alyssa and I realized we were having a lot of fun, and I have been playing the game on average once every two weeks.


Why it’s Fun


The author doesn’t have a strong voice in Digital Graffiti Gallery. It simply turns out that looking for and capturing graffiti makes wandering around campus fun. There’s a lot of interesting work to find, and there is a fairly high rate of renewal. When you find something really cool, it feels like a victory to get it into the game. Also, it’s fun to guess where you might happen to find wall art.

The activity is not so intense that it takes over your whole field of consciousness, leaving time to talk about other things that are best talked about while wandering around with a friend. Digital Graffiti Gallery gives me just enough to do to get me outside the office and my routine so that I can entertain what might be possible. This activity taps easily into the feeling under a lot of our mobile game research that there’s a lot to be learned from being in the world rather than hidden from it in some classroom. Furthermore, noticing graffiti is a verb that our city already understands.

There’s also a certain element of pride, camaraderie, and competition in Digital Graffiti Gallery that ARIS is able to almost invisibly provide. When I find something really cool, capture it, and drop it on the map, I know I’m the first one to it (in the game world at least), and I want to show it off to others. Even without the (upcoming) ability to like and comment on players’ data gathering activities, or a further articulating of what is being collected through some sort of metadata driven by a taxonomy of wall art, it feels meaningful and connected.

This too is why I would now describe Digital Graffiti Gallery as a game and not simply a curation activity. Though the feedback is not happening in the software, the boundaries and playfulness of a game emerge from our engagement with the basic mechanic of capturing wall art.


As a Teacher


Just as Digital Graffiti Gallery has been an easy way for me to explain to broad audiences how ARIS might be used for data collection activities, I hope it can help me explain my intent to help students produce meaningful work.

In academics, for students and researchers alike, most of the focus is on the work that gets put into a project, and far too little on what comes out. Digital Graffiti Gallery is certainly an example of getting out more than was put in. Not to minimize Ivan’s accomplishment, but others’ projects that semester involved far more research and technical mastery. Yet his idea is inspiring, and his game is fun to play (it’s the first ARIS game I’ve really played casually). It has increased my ability to teach others how to use game design to tap into local culture in other ways, both in class and with the other researchers and teachers I work with. His work moves the field forward.

It’s not that careful research isn’t important, just that we’ve gotten used to putting the cart before the horse. Many of our educational models assume that students do not produce work capable of taking on meaning outside the classroom, capable of inspiration (leading to new forms of action) and not merely evaluation.


Teamwork – Serial Partnerships


The creation of Digital Graffiti Gallery also says something about the possibilities for group work within classroom contexts.

Outside the classroom of course, group work is the norm rather than the exception and it is constituted in multiple fashions. Yet our typical emphasis on and particular construction of individual achievement inside the classroom (not so much the individualism itself – that’s rampant outside too) creates a context where group work seems artificial and awkward. I try to make my classrooms places where a different culture can take root, where multiple forms of partnership are possible and make sense.

Digital Graffiti Gallery is an example of a kind of group work we don’t often make room for in classrooms, the serial partnership. Ivan gets credit for authoring Digital Graffiti Gallery. But the idea did not begin with him. Jaksa Oisinski, also a student that semester, is a local artist and frequently brought up the topic of wall art in class. Tyler Mound, another student, took these ideas further, envisioning the encoding of local, underground art in a data collecting activity mediated by ARIS and accompanied by ethnographic research on the artists. Ivan instantiated a subset of those ideas in Digital Graffiti Gallery. At no time were they working on a team together in the usual sense, but these students were nevertheless able to accomplish more together than alone.

Serial partnerships look more like relay races than how we typically think of group work. It’s not the sort of group work that is codified in group work that is formally assigned, and it’s hard to imagine how it could be, especially as the roles are not uniform, and uniform achievement and responsibility are at the core of the paradigm of student achievement. I’m sure someone could come up with a rubric and a physical artifact to attempt scaffolding this process, but that’s not really the point.




Classrooms should be places where informal collaboration is likely to spontaneously occur. And those classrooms should sit in places where this collaborative work is capable of inspiring the instructor to write a long-winded blog post about it a year after the fact.

Analogies with SAGE

SAGE is open source math software. I spent some time becoming familiar with the software and the project before I jumped ship from the math world. Essentially, the idea is to be able to replace the closed, expensive, proprietary math software frequently in use (e.g. Matlab, Mathematica, Magma) with a free and open source alternative. Along with the usual arguments for this sort of software, there are additional reasons research mathematicians have for wanting something open like this. Truth in math is determined by people, and if people can’t see the source code, they can’t decide whether an argument holds water. Closed software is inherently divorced from the basic epistemology of mathematics.

Anyway, SAGE has been evolving for years, and even though it’s been around longer than ARIS, it looks like they’re heading for a watershed moment too. William Stein writes on the SAGE blog this week about some of the organizational possibilities ahead of them in terms of hosting and long term sustainability. It’s interesting to see some of the similarities between our two projects. I hope there’s a lot to learn from their work and struggles.

There are a few other things that Stein has written that might help those far away from math understand what this open source math project is about.

Explaining SAGE and the need for open source math software

William Stein’s personal history with math software

Thoughts about technology and math education

Tensions between research and education uses for SAGE (this one might also be relevant to our work, but mostly it makes me glad to be over here instead of in math)

ARIS use is Evolving

This is a slide from a presentation Chris B and I gave about ARIS from Open Ed. 2011 (last week). The idea was to show how many more people were doing things with ARIS than only 4 months ago. But later, I noticed something else interesting. Not only have the numbers grown bigger, but the relationship between each of the stats has changed, painting a picture of a qualitative change that has occurred.

In June,

Players < Games < Editors.

In October,

Editors < Games < Players.

So back in June, we had fewer than 1 game per editor. Effectively this meant that we were on the whole signing people up to make games who never made a game. Now we are in the situation where on average, every editor has made (just barely) more than one game. We also were in the situation where games were not really getting played on average (more games than players). But now we have more than 50% more players than games. This is just one stat, but it seems like the aggregate nature of how ARIS is getting used is evolving. How cool!

3-Minute Retreat

At the Open Education Conference last week, I spoke just after Jeff Hausman from the Jesuit Learning Academy. He was speaking about trying to unite the 200+ Jesuit College campuses across the country, and one of the icons on the screenshots he was showing caught my eye (the candle above). It looked like an app icon (what does that say about me?) and the title underneath was 3-minute retreat. This reminded me of little ARIS “games” that Jim Mathews has put together; he called them meditations. The idea in these meditations was to facilitate someone taking a little break from life, going somewhere peaceful or contemplative, maybe providing an idea to think about or a little music to aid introspection.

Jeff came up to Chris Blakesley and I the next day and said he thought maybe there was some part for ARIS in his mission. So I told him what I was thinking. He told us more about the role of the 3-minute retreat at their schools. Basically, they are similar to what Jim was envisioning, but specifically about taking time out of one’s day to connect with God. It was a nice introduction. And then Chris B and I did something fun. We spent the next hour making a spec. of 3-minute retreat in ARIS. We found their materials, and they were a perfect match for what ARIS can display. We combined that material with on-site photos that Chris B and I had been taking for fun anyway. At the end of that hour, we had something up to show Jeff. Not a complete rethinking of his idea within the medium of ARIS or taking particular advantage of local place, but suggestive of what might be done. It was enough for him to show any colleagues a working prototype.

You can play our mock-up of 3 minute retreat. Look for it in ARIS. It’s near Park City Utah if you’re using the map. Maybe it will give you ideas about how meditation as an activity might be facilitated with ARIS or some other mobile platform.