Brian Smith
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Brian K Smith is an associate professor in the School of Information Sciences & Technology and College of Education at the Pennsylvania State University. He holds a B.S. degree in Computer Science & Engineering from UCLA and a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences from Northwestern University. Smith's research examines the use of computational systems for enhancing learning and performance in everyday contexts. The core of his work is developing "experiences" where people articulate prior knowledge in order to identify misconceptions, confront existing beliefs and attitudes to adopt new ways of doing.

Smith received a Faculty Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation in 2000 to begin a research agenda around visual learning. He appeared on the cover of Black Issues in Higher Education in February 2002 as one of ten influential African-American innovators in information technology. In 2004, he received the Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies from the American Education Research Association. He was also named an Apple Distinguished Educator in 2004.


Learning through Game Modding
Individual Presentation, Friday (9:00 - 10:30) in Hall of Ideas F

Statement of Interest

Some researchers have suggested that designing and implementing games can lead to deeper forms of learning than simply playing games created by others. Learner design efforts may benefit from the increasing number of computational engines that allow users to customize and expand game behaviors. We seek to understand how modifying, or modding, existing games can lead to various forms of learning.


Game design can be a powerful motivator for learning complex skills. For instance, studies of elementary school children who designed educational games suggested that programming could be a medium for personal and creative expression as well as helping learners develop informal notions of mathematical and computational formalisms (Harel, 1991; Kafai, 1994). Learning by designing provides opportunities to engage in rich problem solving activities that resemble those of expert game designers.

Unfortunately, designing and implementing games is a daunting task. Building games with high-level computer languages requires a great deal of work unrelated to game play, and simpler authoring tools often fail to provide the realism that learners see in modern video games. Fortunately, designers began abstracting their games from the underlying engines that handle graphical rendering, camera control, lighting and so. These engines allow games to be modified, and communities of players now routinely alter and share modded games with others. Modding also involves some degree of learning, but the overhead of tweaking these game engines is significantly less than other options, especially if the goal is to produce products that resemble current, commercial games. More so, we believe that modding can lead to opportunities to learn by designing.


Our session will describe the types of learning that can occur while modding games, e.g., computer programming, mathematics, physics, artificial intelligence, and software engineering. We will present these ideas through case studies of high school and college students' modding in classroom settings and qualitative analyses of what they learned by creating working demonstrations of video games. We will focus on the curricular activities designed to ease the complexity of modding game engines and discuss difficulties that emerged during the courses. Student comments on the degree of effort required to work with different game engines will also be presented, as those have helped us to understand how to design modding exercises that promote learning of various domain skills. In the end, we hope to promote a new direction for research, in particular promote the research in the design and development of tools that can emphasize learning by modding.


Harel, I. (1991). Children designers: Interdisciplinary constructions for learning and knowing mathematics in a computer-rich school. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing.

Kafai, Y. B. (1994). Minds in play: Computer game design as a context for children's learning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Sweatin' with Nintendo: Exergaming for Health
Thursday & Friday

Statement of Interest

Excessive playing of computer/video games have been accused of contributing to overweight and obesity among young Americans. However, recent multimodal interfaces allow game players to control virtual experiences by moving their bodies, essentially introducing exercise into gaming. Our session examines the potential of these exergames to increase physical activity and reduce medical complications associated with overweight and obesity.


The percentage of overweight adolescents in the United States has more than doubled in the past twenty years (CDC, 2004). Health risks associated with obesity can be reduced by adding as little as 20-30 minutes of physical activity into daily routines. Yet a third of American adolescents and 50% of adults fail to meet this minimum requirement, prompting policy makers to declare an "obesity epidemic" in the US.

Some research has suggested that increases in the number of overweight and obese youth are partially due to television viewing and videogame use. In particular, the "couch potato hypothesis" suggests that videogames displace time that could be spent engaging in physical activities (Vandewater et al., 2004). Interventions designed to reduce the time that children play videogames have also shown significant reductions in obesity-related health measures (Robinson, 1999).

The couch potato hypothesis assumes that videogame players sit on comfortable chairs in front of screens pressing buttons. However, a new generation of multimodal games and controllers, exergames, are forcing players to become physically active. Low-cost cameras and advanced video processing algorithms allow videogames to be controlled by bodily movements (e.g., Sony's EyeToy games), and touch sensitive floor sensors allow players to dance in virtual spaces (e.g., Konami's Dance Dance Revolution). Stories of people using these multimodal controllers to lose weight have appeared on Internet sites (e.g., and in the popular press.


A Interactive Exhibits describes existing exergames and to present a taxonomy of their potential effects on physical fitness. We will also discuss two pilot studies that illustrate the benefits of exergaming on health. The first, performed with 9-18 year olds, demonstrates how exergames motivate youth to engage in high levels of aerobic activity. The second is a longitudinal case study of a person with type 2 diabetes who lost weight and increased blood sugar control during three months of exergaming. Finally, we use the results of these studies to suggest a design framework for future exergames that considers the roles of motivation and feedback in keeping game players involved in long-term physical activity in virtual worlds.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2004). Physical activity and good nutrition: Essential elements to prevent chronic diseases and obesity 2004. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Robinson, T. N. (1999). Reducing children's television viewing to present obesity: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 282(16), 1561-1567. Vandewater, E. A., Shim, M., & Caplovitz, A. G. (2004). Linking obesity and activity level with children's television and video game use. Journal of Adolescence, 27(1), 71-85.


Informal Learning in Fantasy Sports Chatrooms
Thursday & Friday

Statement of Interest
Analyzing the discourse used in online gaming communities may reveal knowledge use and learning that bear little resemblance to formal educational practices. Our goal is to understand how game players' online discussions of strategies and techniqes provide insight into their informal knowledge use and learning, specifically in decision-making and resource allocation tasks.

Recent estimates suggest that more than 15-30 million people regularly play online fantasy sports games (A.T. Kearney Inc., 2003; Ballard, 2004; FSTA, 2003), where players assume the role of "league owners" and select professional athletes to form ideal sports teams. Players of these games compete with others in what can be viewed as a resource allocation task: Decisions about teams involve choosing athletes to maximize winnings while working with limited assets. As a result, successful fantasy sports play may involve a variety of sophisticated, yet informal, information seeking and mathematical practices.

Sociocultural research has tried to characterize differences between the types of learning that occur in formal educational contexts and the world outside of schools. For instance, studies of activities such as carpet laying, farming, candy selling (Carraher et al., 1985; Saxe, 1991), shopping (Lave, 1988), and game playing (Nasir, 2002, 2005) have examined the use of mathematical knowledge during interactions with the environment, tools, and social partners. An important finding of this work is that mathematical practices occur as people attempt to fulfill goals during everyday activities and these practices often look different than those found in formal mathematics education.

One aspect of our research concerns the decisions made within the culture of fantasy sports, as players may be engaging in a great deal of thinking and learning around mathematical concepts such as optimization and statistical analyses. Some of these decisions may be mathematical while others may be tied to personal preferences, beliefs, and biases. We focus on three aspects of fantasy sports play that may influence the use of informal mathematics (Saxe, 1991): 1) the structure of decision-making activities, 2) artifacts and conventions that enable the activities, and 3) social interactions between game players. The intent is to characterize the relationship between player's goals and their use of mathematical knowledge in fantasy sports games.

An Interactive Exhibit will present the concept of fantasy sports games and analyses of a fantasy basketball chatroom during the first half of the 2004-2005 NBA season (~58,000 messages). These conversations may allow us to understand the use and value of various tools, representations, and peer collaborations. We will discuss our characterizations of message content to understand differences between novice and expert players, how external information sources are used during decision-making, and the nature of competition/collaboration between players.

A.T. Kearney Inc. (2003). The new sports consumer. Chicago, IL: A.T. Kearney, Inc.
Ballard, C. (2004, June 21). Fantasy world. Sports Illustrated, 100, 80-89.
Carraher, T. N., Carraher, D. W., & Schliemann, A. D. (1985). Mathematics in the streets and in schools. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 3, 21-29.
Fantasy Sports Trade Association. (2003). 2003 generalized comprehensive fantasy sport consumer behavior results. St. Louis, MO: Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Lave, J. (1988). Cognition in practice: Mind, mathematics, and culture in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Nasir, N. (2002). Identity, goals, and learning: Mathematics in cultural practice. Mathematical Thinking and Learning, 4(2&3), 213-247.
Nasir, N. S. (2005). Individual cognitive structuring and the sociocultural context: Strategy shifts in the game of dominoes. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 14(1), 5-34.
Saxe, G. B. (1991). Culture and cognitive development: Studies in mathematical understanding. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

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