Thursday, February 26, 2009

Educational games must be created and integrated into classrooms.

 Over the past few weeks we’ve been discussing both the benefits and weaknesses of gaming.  For the most part, many of the problems that are seen in regards to gaming are confined to Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) while the benefits of gaming are found in educational games and those oriented toward social change, though benefits are also found in MMORPGs to a degree.  As research shows, educational games have an impact on traditional students and an even larger one on students that have fallen behind their peers.  Students also experience an increase in their comfort level with technology as they use computers.  By preparing students intellectually and helping to decrease the digital divide that exists because of differential access to technology, use of computer games as educational tools in the classroom should be increased. 

As discussed during Diane Pozefsky’s lecture, Serious Games, educational games allow students a much greater degree of freedom in their learning.  Students learn more quickly and forget information more slowly.  Students that have not responded well to traditional educational styles tend to benefit even more from game based educational tools.  Games are successful in education for a number of reasons.  They allow students to experiment without the fear of failure or consequence.  Games also reinforce students’ progress with levels and points.  By rewarding success, students are encouraged to continue playing the game.  Lastly, games provide continual feedback for how a student is performing.  This helps to ensure that a student isn’t just practicing a concept, but practicing the concept correctly.  Physiologically, games also increase dopamine levels in the brain.  Dopamine is associated with cognition of reward in the brain and is pivotal to learning as the brain learns to repeat actions that induce award.  Because the student is winning while they are learning, their dopamine levels increase and the brain learns the action more efficiently. 

The digital divide is the gap that exists between people with access to computers and technology in general and those without access to it.  This is particularly detrimental to students are moving into university life or into the work world that lack basic computer skills.  By bringing more computers into schools and encouraging students to utilize them for educational purposes, students are more comfortable with technology and thus more likely to experiment with computer use outside of gaming programs.  When students are not afraid of computers, they are much more able to find solutions for computer problems as they arise.  This prepares them for life in the professional or academic worlds which are becoming almost completely dependent on technology and computers.

Lastly, there must be an increase in the number of games being produced for educational purposes.  Unsurprisingly, there are not a large number of educational game designers because the market for educational games is relatively small.  By introducing gaming in to public school curriculum, the market would expand dramatically and innovation would come to the educational software field.  The government could also offer grants to designers that focus on creating effective educational games to spur the industry along.

By increasing the use of educational games in the classroom, students would benefit intellectually in the short term and in the long run by exposing them to technology and thus improving their general computer skills.  There are some problems with the idea of introducing computers and educational games into classrooms.  What are some of the issues?  Do you think that you as a student would learn more efficiently using a computer?  Will we ever reach the point where a teacher is obsolete?

Do violent video games lead to more violence?

On Monday we spent a good portion of the lecture discussing whether violent video games promote a culture of violence within our society. Games like "Call of Duty," "Grand Theft Auto" and "Halo" all center around one's ability to kill the enemy by any means necessary, and now that technology has improved, those video games have the ability to portray shootings and other acts of violence with a chilling likeness to real events. This leads many to believe that children who spend prolonged periods of time playing violent video games to become desensitized to violence and even more likely to commit violent acts.

While I do believe that things people witness on television -- i.e. violence in the news, TV shows or in movies -- can affect a person's views on violence, I do not believe that video games have the same affect.

The main argument the Professor Nicholas gave us during lecture was that violent video games are engrossing, interactive and encourage identification with the video game's shooter or aggressor. And "first-person shooter games" reflect some of those beliefs. In a "first-person shooter game," the game runs from the prospective of the player and it makes it seem like the player literally is shooting people. And people argue that the ability to press a button to kill a video game character lets the person choose to kill in the game, so that separates games from other mediums.

My main problem with those arguments are two-fold. I believe that in video games, there is detachment involved from the creation of fantasy-type atmospheres that prevents a person from truly identifying with the game. And I think that while graphics have improved, there still lacks a true real-world feeling to games. Seeing a person explode in a video game isn't nearly as uncomfortable as in a movie or on the news. When I was a kid -- and sometimes now -- I had to cover my eyes in violent movie scenes, I've never had that problem with a video game.

Studies have also shown that it's hard to connect video game usage to violent acts. In a 2005 study Williams and Skoric found no difference in aggression between violent game players and a control group. And there recently was an AP story about a California appeals court striking down a California law that sought to ban the sale or rental of violent video games to minors.

"None of the research establishes or suggests a causal link between minors playing violent video games and actual psychological or neurological harm, and inferences to that effect would not be reasonable," the court said in the ruling.

So my question for everyone is very simple? What do you think? Do you agree that video games are not sophisticated enough of a medium to promote violence? Do you feel that the fantasy situations in video games diminishes the reality of violent actions? Or do you disagree? Do you feel that video games leave children with a higher propensity to violence?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Web addiction, does it exist?

Today in class we discussed whether or not web addiction exists. It appears that our generation, more than any other, believes that web addiction does exist. we seem to use this "web addiction"as a scapegoat for the amount of time we spend on the internet. The United States has the largest online population and it has become a staple in our society.

In our reading this week, we read an article by John Bishop called Does Internet Addiction Exist?. In this article he explains why this isn't an legitimate disorder. Bishop says that the internet is a environment, a community in which people, artefacts, and structures exist. So it is impossible for someone to be addicted to an environment. Bishop says this is like, "Saying that people can be addicted to the internet is like saying people can be addicted to the real world." This means that you can't be addicted to an environment but aspects of the environment. For example, in the real world you could be addicted to casinos or gambling. On the internet you could be addicted to bidding on Ebay but you can't be addicted to the internet itself. This leads to the question, if there is no such thing as internet addiction then why do sometimes people suffer withdrawal symptoms like convulsions when the internet is removed? Bishop believes that these symptoms of withdrawals occur because they are not longer to live out their social desires. For instance, if you live out your desires in a chat room and then your internet is taken away you would suffer withdrawals because you aren't able to act out those desires not because you are addicted to the Internet.

Although, the jury is still out on Internet Addiction Disorder there are some people and communities that truly believe this is a serious issue. Now there are a couple of clinics and treatment centers that aim to help people who are "addicted to the internet". The first officially licensed clinic is in Beijing. China has the second largest online population, 94 million (2nd to the United States), and they find that IAD is a crippling their society. Although the internet is used regularly for business and education, the use of the internet for different reasons has spiraled out of control. Authorities have even had to step in to shut down many illegally operated internet cafes. Other psychologists and psychiatrists have taken note of the widespread dependence on the internet in the US and now there are clinics and doctors who specialize in this phenomena.

I don't think that it is so much an addiction to the internet but more of a reliance on technology. It seems that we are so dependent on the internet to get information, directions, music, etc that we forget how to function without it. So... what are your thoughts? Do you think that web addiction is a legitimate disorder? Could someone actually suffer withdrawal symptoms from lack of internet? Most of all, do you think that these treatment programs and treatments are actually helping others from coping with their addiction to the internet?

Confessions of an Internet Addict

I, my friends, am an internet addict. I crave the internet...need it even. What would my life be without it? How would I find out how much money I have left this month? How would I follow the news outside of Chapel Hill (sorry, DTH)? How would I be able to organize my life and check all of my correspondence (sorry, Google nerds)? How would I stay in tune with the world?

These are all questions that we could all easily ask ourselves if there were suddenly no internet. I realize that there may never be 'no internet' in these times, especially in a place such as Chapel Hill, but think about how empty your life would feel without the tools which the internet provides you on a daily (perhaps hourly, etc.) basis. I, for one, keep multiple windows of Mozilla Firefox up in my computer at all times, unless I am rebooting my machine. In one window I will have GMail, different news stories, and other daily tasks. In another window I will keep school pages such as Blackboard, our own COMP 380 homepage, library documents and other school-related pages. In perhaps a third (gasp, if you didn't for the second!) window I will keep items of a personal nature, whether it be research on a music group, upcoming events which I wish to attend, or any other myriad of things.

Now my grandparents, and even my parents may say "How can you possibly keep up with all of those things at once?". The fact of the matter is that I cannot possibly keep up with three pages (in all maybe nine tabs of information) of new-fangled internet at once, but I like to have all options for information available at my unpredictable choosing. I know people who document their entire day-by-day life on Google; if by some miraculous happenstance that were to go away they would not know what to do. I simply do not think that this is outside the norm for today's society.

Now this is all obviously a bit of an overstatement, but think about how the average student today is completely reliant on the internet for most day-to-day tasks. I feel like half of the work that we turn in is submitted online these days, most of this class couldn't figure out how much money they currently possessed if it weren't for online banking, and without (Your News Source Here) Online nobody would have significant dinner conversation. Perhaps this too is overstated, but the fact of the matter is that nearly all of the people that I know rely on the internet for more than just menial tasks and information. Most people I know need the internet in order to survive in today's modern-age world.

If anyone read the fist reading of the week, entitled "What is Internet & Web Addiction?" you might have read the diognostic criterea of a meek and depressed internet fiend who feels powerless and lost without the use of the internet. You might have seen examples of "addicting" sights such as ESPN, Yahoo, and Facebook. You might have seen information about a Chinese clinic to treat internet addiction. Sign me up! Who doesn't check certain sites with disturbing frequency (pulease, all you Facebook stalkers out there) or feel lost and unconnected without the readily available tools of e-mail and more broadly the internet? I might as well just check in to the Beijing Military Region Central Hospital and go 'cold turkey' because by any definition that my parents and grandparents would give, I am addicted to the internet.

I need to 'use' the internet at least once every day to feel alive. Sometimes I 'use' as many as 10-20 times per day. I get a warm, tingly feeling every time I see the UNC-1 network fully connect to my laptop. I, my friends, am addicted to the internet.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Finale 2007: Bugs in Commercial Software

It is understandable that companies that produce software do not want to be held liable for misuse of their software, and could not conceivably be held liable for every bug encountered by every user of the software. Even Windows, which is deployed on most computers throughout the world and is possibly the most important piece of software in existence as a result, is buggy to an extent. However, there are certain pieces of software that merit special consideration because of the nature of their bugs or their market position. The one I’m looking at is Finale 2007.

Finale ( is a line of music notation and publication software intended for classical composers, writers of Jazz charts, and songwriters—basically anyone who notates music (rather than records it). Commercial licenses for the software are $500 and student licenses can be had for $250. It is essentially the Microsoft Office of music composition. The program allows the user to enter music on a page, representing any number of instruments, and to play back what has been written. The program is extraordinarily advanced in its features, allowing the composer complete control in writing the music, laying out the page, playing back the music, etc. Because of this, the program requires extensive training to produce publication-quality documents. Coincidentally, Finale has a near monopoly on this software, with its closest competitor being Sibelius ( Having never used this software (as the composition faculty of this university as well as many others is trained only on Finale), I cannot attest to its quality.

Finale, on the other hand, is one of the buggiest programs I have ever used. It crashes in about 25% of the sessions that I use it. Between shutting down the program and opening it again, it will frequently change playback settings, completely altering the sound of the music. It is extraordinarily hard to add new lines of music to the score or to reorient the page from portrait (which is the default) to landscape (which is the standard for classical score publication) due to bugs in those areas. When playback has not been altered, it is extremely buggy during playback on computers released only a year before the software (my own, for example). I finished a semester-long project writing a string quartet to find that the last three or so minutes were completely unrecognizable because of errors regarding volume levels of the different parts. Overall, this software, as powerful as it is, is extraordinarily hard to use because of its bugs.

It seems to me that, because of Finale’s standing as being one of the only options for software in an admittedly niche field, it should be held responsible for the bugs in its software. Market forces will usually relegate buggy software to the bottom of the barrel, but because of Finale’s unique market and market position, as well as its unusual learning curve, market forces do not have the same effect on it as with other software. The software has had plenty of time to mature (version 1.0 was released in 1988, and new versions have been released yearly for some time). I know from other people’s experience, too, that I am not alone in experiencing these bugs. On the other hand, this is not critical software. When errors do happen, they never cause significant damage, assuming the composer has been saving his data at recent intervals. This is not a program where much is at stake in the event of a crash. Also, the program is functioning in every way that it is advertised. These bugs, while very annoying at times, do not cripple the functionality of the software beyond making some things harder to do. As I said before, though, I think the company should be held accountable because they are a near monopoly. I would like to hear what you all think, though.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Intellectual Property

Richard M. Stallman states in his article, Did You Say “Intellectual Property”? It's a Seductive Mirage, that copyright laws are, “designed to promote authorship and art, and covers the details of expression of a work. Patent law was intended to promote the publication of useful ideas, at the price of giving the one who publishes an idea a temporary monopoly over it—a price that may be worth paying in some fields and not in others. Trademark law, by contrast, was not intended to promote any particular way of acting, but simply to enable buyers to know what they are buying. Legislators under the influence of “intellectual property”, however, have turned it into a scheme that provides incentives for advertising (Stallman).” With all the talk over the past week about how the digital work is even faster and even cheaper and even wider spread. With these changes it is taken away the protections that were protected by books, papers, magazines, and records. This is because it is very easy to copy something and post it on the web with sites such as Wikipedia, Facebook, and MySpace to name a few.

Along the same lines we spoke about the fair use factors and when it is legal to make a copy. So my question to you is how much is too much when it comes to the amount of work that is being used? An example may be you download songs for an online music store such as iTunes which you pay $0.99 per song. If you purchase those songs but then share them among friends whether it be through blank cd’s or over the web when is the line drawn with copyright issues.

Freshman year my roommate got in trouble through the University for downloading music without paying for it. She had to go through several honor court appearances as well as having her computer cleared. I am sure there are many, many people all over the country and world who are doing going against copyright, patent, and trademark laws everyday. How can we put an end to this “intellectual property?”

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Open Source’s Future and Copyleft

The concept of open source software really boggled my mind when I was first introduced to the concept of it, years ago in secondary school. Firstly, I was surprised that there even existed operating systems besides Windows and Mac, but I was mostly surprised by of the lack of standardisation. It was so odd to have so many different versions of a single programme required to do one thing, like word processing.

Despite open source’s admirable resilience all these years, it made me wonder why it still hasn’t appealed to the masses in the way it was meant to be revolutionary and groundbreaking. Besides the reasons listed in the text, I suppose it is also because the dynamism of open source is a double-edged sword. While it opens a lot of room for creativity, but also leaves the user spoilt for choice, due to the wide variety of software available to them. How do you choose which is best? Also, without standardisation, tech support would be a headache. 

So while open source may be a good experimental platform for software, I would say that lamenters of the doom that open source may bring to the licensing and distribution of software need not worry about open source taking over the market (at least any time in the near future).

On the topic of intellectual property rights, I feel that creative commons comes about in the spirit of open source software, hoping to make intellectual property available to the masses, while still acknowledging the effort of the original owners. Creative commons is said to head the ‘copyleft’ movement (there’s an extensive article about copyleft on Wikipedia. Go check it out!), changing perspectives on intellectual property rights. 

Corporations that champion creative commons would include sites like DeviantArt. Even with creative commons licensing on sites like these, however, there are still many reported cases of ‘art theft’, where a contributor claims that art ‘stolen’ from another artist is actually his or hers. Why are there still cases of this when creative commons already allows for so much flexibility? Do creative commons really help foster the creativity it intends to? 

Crime without Punishment?

All of this talk about deciding what is right or wrong… but what is the penalty? For a majority of us, since childhood, deciding what is right or wrong has been based on weighing punishment. Is hitting your sibling during a fight worth the beating you’ll get later? Or is stealing candy worth having to work for the clerk to pay back the cash? These pathetic examples then increase in magnitude to is fighting or stealing worth potential jail time or a lawsuit? Such a thought process based on personal consequences can frame our actions.

So how does society respond if the act in itself is difficult to establish as right or wrong making any punishment even more challenging to define? As mentioned earlier by Yi-An, not only is the system of assigning fair use and intellectual property ambiguous, so is the punishment to not following such a system. Personally, I think this is the main reason “illegal” actions involving a computer are so abundant. For example, if you burn a cd for a friend, who in the music cooperation is even going to find out the action took place much less assign a punishment?

Are any of you all aware of individuals that have been caught and punished for illegal downloads or file sharing? Even if you do know someone, has that made you stop your own illegal actions on the computer? I’m probably just clueless of what punishments are out there for such actions, but it sure does seem as if industries are making a lot of noise about laws being broken in the technological age and at the same time are not doing much to stop it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

So.... What Is Right and What Is Wrong?

Living in a society full of high technologies like today, it is extremely hard to avoid problems of copyright violation. Imagine we are using Facebook, checking our friends’ newest updates online. Suddenly, we find an extremely hilarious video in a friend’s “News Feed”. Because the clip is just way too funny, we decide to share it on our own Facebook “Home Page”. By simply clicking on “share”, we easily post that link through Youtube on Facebook.

As more and more online websites have been created, such as Facebook and Youtube, people nowadays can prevalently and easily share various information, such as video clips, music and computer software, on-line. At the same time, thanks to the high-speed Internet, the whole procedures are not only fast but also free of charge. However, as we click the “share” button, how many of us would really consider the issue of copyrights, or the problem of violating copyrights? From another perspective, if the information is something worthy and needed to be brought to public attention, how do we efficiently protect original authors’ copyrights at the same time? When we are sharing information on-line, for example, when we are sharing music on Facebook, can this be categorized as fair use? Most of the time, we are not doing so on educational purposes, we are not sure how it will affect the market for the copyright works, and more importantly, Facebook cannot be counted as a private place. Is there a standardized way to determine fair use? If not, how can we maintain a good balance between fair use and digital rights management?

When it comes to the issue of the intellectual property protection of software, the situation becomes even more ambiguous. According to what our textbook suggested, neither right-based analysis nor utilitarian analysis (one based on natural right argument, the other based on consequences) have strong arguments. Do these approaches indicate that granting the intellectual property protection of software is unnecessary? Is digital rights management performed by the government reasonable and ethical?

By attaching laws to grant the intellectual property protection of software, digital rights management has been reinforced. Once people violate a licensing agreement, they violate the law. Based on Kantianism and rule utilitarianism, breaking the law is ethically wrong. Since both theories have their own drawbacks and the previous arguments from the two analyses are not strong, are laws granting the intellectual property protection of software meaningful?