January 30th, 2013



January 30th, 2013


I just downloaded a new app that has some significant UI tricks. To demonstrate these to the user, they make use of several full screen cards that I swipe through. Some are images, others are videos. This struck me as good form, but also reminded me of what it’s like to look at notes in the Notebook in ARIS. Next time I need to make an intro for a game, I will likely place a note as a player, and then modify its location as an author to serve as my intro.

Update: I actually tried this out. It does look cool but ARIS lacks the requirements to disable the note after it has been viewed by a player. Maybe it will get implemented officially, but until then…

Filed under: ARIS, Tutorial

Last week, we came together with Kurt Squire to discuss the foundations of mobile learning. Here’s some knowledge we picked up in that discussion. And we are excited to hear what you think about it!

November 28, 2012
Facilitator: Dr. Kurt Squire
Topic: Mobile

Reading Outline:

Chapter 1 in Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning : legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge [England]: Cambridge University Press.

Chapter 9 & 10 in Squire, K., & Jenkins, H. (2011). Video games and learning : teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York: Teachers College Press.

Mobile situates learning

One of the goals we have for this reading group is to develop a vocabulary to talk about mobile learning. Kurt proposes that the situated learning literature gives us just that. That said, he immediately cautions us, explaining that situated learning theory is descriptive not prescriptive. As researchers, Kurt offers that we haven’t gotten very far since Lave & Wenger’s book; specifically, we are not at the point where we have highly predictive modeling for situated learning. When we properly consider the constraints of situated learning, it still becomes a useful theory for us to draw from to understanding mobile.

One of the most unique contributes mobile offers to learning environments is how it situates the learner. Particularly, we are reconnecting people and places in unique ways. But is place the only situative characteristic of mobile?

Back to the continuums…

At the Mobile Learning Lab, we often think about things in terms of continuums. In our discussion with Kurt, we may have uncovered another one in answering the question: “how situated is this [activity/experience/environment]?”

Taking a step back to look at situated learning theory, we see that many different epistemological frameworks have converged at this theory. For example, the cognitivist theory of situated cognition and the sociocultural theory of communities of practice have both substantially shaped our conversations about what it means for learning to be situated. Additionally, linguistics theorists and embodied cognition theorists talk about different ways to situate learning. Kurt explained that, despite their epistemological differences, these theories can be united in interesting ways, using Jim Gee’s work as an example.

Given mobile learning’s deep roots in situated learning theory, we have a strong hunch that mobile learning is going to reveal a similarly complex web of relationships. For example, when we take a broad look at ARIS through this lens, we can see that perhaps the different genres afford different levels of situativity. A few of the genres we’ve defined so far: tours, geo-locative storytelling, ethnography/field research, and physical engagement/health. In each of these genres, we often focus on situating a different piece of the learning environment.

What level are we changing?

Kurt suggested useful way for us to effectively map out the landscape of our projects (and really any mobile project). A big part of the question of situativity is: what grain size are we trying to change? Is it a unit within a course? The course itself? Instruction overall? Or the school/university level? Right now, most ARIS projects live on the unit or course level (and equivalent levels in informal learning environments).

Lingering questions

How can we use the projects we have to have a bigger impact on instruction and/or the university? Is this something that we should pursue?

What are the affordances and constraints of situating learning in different ways?

More resources
Situated learning is something David and Breanne spent some time looking at last year for the Engage program’s “Situated Learning: Case, Story, Place” award. Here’s an annotated bibliography that they put together.

Up next… game design with David Gagnon!

To wrap up the year, we’ll be digging into game design in the context of mobile.

Until next time,
Mobile Learning Incubator
Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison



At our last meeting, we met at our usual spot with guest facilitator Rich Halverson. Check out our reflections on our discussion about design, and then share your thoughts with us by commenting below!

November 14, 2012
Facilitator: Dr. Rich Halverson
Topic: Design

Reading Outline:

A new way to study leadership

Rich Halverson’s article, drawing from Norman’s concept of artifacts, examines how the designed artifacts of school leaders shape interpersonal organization in schools. In attempting to take up a learning sciences perspective toward school leadership, Rich answers a basic question: “what am I going to study?” In response to this question, Rich noted two potential answers:


tracking the decisions that leaders make

Unfortunately, these are extremely difficult to study, because they are too contextual. In order to effectively study decisions, one would have to find someone in the midst of decisionmaking.


documents, programs, procedures, policies meeting agendas, etc.

This is something we can study. Artifacts function as the residual of decisionmaking, which means they are asynchronous in the process and can be studied after-the-fact. Additionally, artifacts have features that designers build in to influence use and affordances – how the user community picks up the features.
Using artifacts as the unit of analysis allows one can look at the artifacts that leaders put in play and observe the degree to which the features afford the intentions of the leader. From this perspective, artifacts can be used to look into the minds of leaders, in a sense, as it relates to their role of making culture.

Using artifacts to create systems of practice

Rich argues that taking this more sociocultural perspective on artifacts allows us to study leadership in new ways. Why? Well, all of the work in any given organization is supported by a network of artifacts. Everything that happens within an organization of people is defined by an artifact of some type. For instance, tasks are defined by the artifacts one interacts with; one’s job description determines the tasks one does on the job. Leaders are responsible for assembling this network of artifacts in a way that facilitates desired interpersonal organization. That means that the larger an organization is, the more artifacts it needs, because there are decidedly more interactions that take place.

Artifacts as a demonstration of power

Given that artifacts play such a substantial role in the way communities function, it’s important to recognize that the producers of artifacts (e.g. leaders) hold a certain amount of power. Rich explains, if you want to understand how leaders use their power, look at the artifacts they use to organize their group. This is true, because artifacts create the condition for interact and interactions build social capital; assuming that social capital is built on trust, which requires interactions.

ARIS and artifacts

Recentering this discussion around mobile and ARIS, we identified two different levels of scale to apply this framework.


On the large-scale level, when looking at the user community around a given tool, it is important for the leaders of such a community to produce the artifacts necessary to maintain a strong user community. The instantiation of the ARIS Google group is one example of how an artifact shapes the types of interactions that take place within the community. As a result of this group, much of the user support is crowdsourced in a unique, yet intentional way. In addition, many project and research collaborations are born through the interactions on the group.


As a designer of mobile experiences, the game or activity itself could function as an artifact, which means that the locations become the features of the artifact. More specifically, an ARIS game about oneself or one’s story can function as an autobiographical artifact and the choices and locations in the game are conscious decisions that disclose identity.

Lingering questions:

If you buy the powerful role of artifacts, the million-dollar question for leading a community is:

What artifacts do you need to put in place to: a) keep ideas flowing b) keep ideas fresh, and c) get the work done?

Additionally, given that this is a more methodological discussion than we’ve had thus far, I think it’s important to further explore the questions: how can this framework (i.e. artifacts, features, and affordances) inform how we research mobile learning spaces? What does this framework give us that others are lacking? What are its constraints?

Up next… We’re talking all things mobile learning with Dr. Kurt Squire!

We’re took last week off for Thanksgiving. But don’t worry we’ll be back with a bang next week, Kurt has a tendency to blow minds.

Don’t forget to drop us a line and let us know your thoughts!

Until next time,
Mobile Learning Incubator
Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison



MLI Reading Group take 2

So, we’ve already gotten a little behind on blogging, but this week we’ll be posting up two blogs to make up for it! Don’t forget, we want to hear your thoughts and perspective. We’re just starting to develop our thinking around these topics, so please feel free to jump in by commenting below!

November 7, 2012
Facilitator: John Martin
Topic: Place

Reading outline

  • Chapter 1 from Ellsworth, E. A. (2005). Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy. New York: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • John Martin’s prelim questions on space and place in learning and designing games for place from his doctoral degree in Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

Art, experience and pedagogy in place

Our first meeting tackled place in learning, mapping out multiple meanings of place and focusing in particular on the role of place in community and on social criticism within place. This week we focused on the phenomenological experience of place and space and how it relates to learning.  We had read Chapter 1 of Liz Ellsworth’s book Places of learning: Media, architecture, pedagogy as well as our colleague John Martin’s prelim questions on space and place in learning and designing games for place. Here’s what we talked about:

Experience as primary

Ellsworth argues that experience comes prior to and is crucial for building understanding, and that, “the qualities of an experience of learning are crucial to what is learned.” (p. 18) What are the qualities of place and space that shape experience and thus understanding? There is a lot to untangle when considering the roles of place and space in experience, but we identified one potentially important dimension: the extent to which place and space shapes an individual’s experience directly vs. how place and space serve to frame interaction among individuals.  Another insight that came about from the Ellsworth reading was that learning happens in time, and that a space can shape your experience of time; for example, architecture can provide an “experiential path” that strongly shapes one’s experience through time.

Art as pedagogy

Ellsworth further argues that art is pedagogical, and spaces themselves can be pedagogical:

“The qualities and design elements that seem to constitute their pedagogical force invite sensations of being somewhere in between thinking and feeling of being in motion through space and time between knowing and not knowing, in the space and time of learning as lived experience with an open, unforeseeable future.” (p. 17)
We spent most of our time discussing this idea of art as pedagogical, and discussed related work on the movement within the art community on creating “happenings” that bring art into everyday life as well as Maxine Greene‘s work on art as a way of knowing the world.

We also asked what can educators learn from artists in designing spaces for experience and learning, and dug into current differences between the art and education worlds. First, formal education tends to try to separate mind from body and learning from place in a way that the art world does not. Further, while there are typically many simultaneous learning goals for a particular classroom activity, artists tend to design a piece or a space for one experience, one big idea. They also tend to view the design differently than educators do, where they are creating a generative experience that can later be reflected upon. In the typical classroom, on the other hand, curricular activities are broken down into self-contained units without much deep reflection on prior experiences. In our current push for deeper understanding in the classroom, through ideas like situated learning, we as educators should more find ways to look to the art world to better understand how to design rich, meaningful experiences for learners.

There are, of course, some fundamental differences between the art world and the education world that may limit teachers’ ability to design experiences in the way that artists do. For one, there are particular affordances of museum vs. classroom spaces that shape experience within the space. In museums and classrooms, individuals are already prepared for different types of experiences, and this likely proves difficult to overcome. There is a sacredness to museums and similar spaces where audience members may come to expect a profound, deep experience; classroom spaces often do not come with the same expectation. Further, artists refine their ideas to perfection, reaching levels of production quality that are out of reach of educators. Still, art as pedagogy provides a useful lens, and our group will continue to dig into the lessons from art in designing experiences.

Lingering questions: granite vs. graphics

Putting on our game designer hats for a moment, let’s consider museums and other designed physical spaces in relation to the the designed virtual spaces of video games. What is different about virtual spaces as they shape experience? What lessons from art and architecture are there for building virtual spaces that provide generative experiences and lead to deep understanding? When designing augmented reality games, what are the ways that we should consider physical spaces to take advantage of the importance of place and space in our experience?

Up next… Discussing design with Dr. Rich Halverson!

You won’t have to wait a whole two weeks (or even one week) for this one, and trust us, you won’t want to miss it – Rich is brilliant!

More to come in a few days,

Mobile Learning Incubator

Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison



“The most highly rated teacher-led example also focussed on the motivational aspect of
learning through making. in this case, secondary students used aris – an open–platform
for creating geo-location games, tours and interactive stories – to design and create quest
games with mobile phones and printed qr codes around the school…”

Read more…

Server Upgrade December 2

November 10th, 2012

The main ARIS server will be offline from 10 am until 8pm CDT Sunday, December 2 so that we can perform a few upgrades. During this time you will not be able to play or modify any of your games.

The purpose of the upgrade is to allow more people to be able to play at once with faster response times. The upgrade also allows a few new features to be installed.

If you have any questions, please email the google group.


Thank you!


MLI is starting a reading group!

We are starting a reading group at the UW Mobile Learning Incubator (MLI) to dig into the theoretical basis for all things mobile. Our basic format for this group is:

  • Invite a new facilitator each week who will:
      • Select 3-4 articles/chapters for the group to read
      • Seed us with questions the day before our meeting
      • Facilitate the discussion
  • Spend at least 2 weeks on a given topic
  • Write up a blog after each meeting to:
      • Leverage online communities to continue the conversation with those outside MLI
      • Deepen our understanding and help develop our ideas around a given topic

MLI’s first reading group

October 24, 2012
Facilitator: Jim Mathews
Topic: Place
Reading outline:

  • Selected chapters from: Smith, G. A., & Sobel, D. (2010). Place-and community-based education in schools.
  • Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Educational Research Journal, 40(3), 619–654.
  • Selected chapters from Gruenewald, D. A., & Smith, G. A. (2008). Place-based education in the global age. Lawrence Erlbaum.
  • Gruenewald, D. A. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher, 32(4), 3–12.

Optional addition:

  • Kitchens, J. (2009). Situated pedagogy and the Situationist International: Countering a pedagogy of placelessness. Educational Studies, 45(3), 240–261. doi:10.1080/00131940902910958

And so it begins…

This past Wednesday was our first MLI Reading Group meeting and it went really well! Jim began the discussion with a brief history of place and space. Specifically, that these topics were first discussed in fields like geography and art, before they formally entered into the world of education. We spent nearly two hours discussing different ideas, particularly about Place-Based Learning (PBL), and (I think) we all left with more questions to explore. So, here we want to pull out some key topics that came up and we’re planning to explore deeper.

What is the difference between place-conscious and place-based education? What does it mean to be critical about place?

“Place” has a wide set of meanings in these readings.

On one end of a continuum we see place as a gateway to experiential/embodied learning about all subjects. The creek at the local pond teaches about biology and the neighborhood baseball field demonstrates physics. This view of place gives Dewey’s laboratory school it’s edge, and leads to all forms of situated learning practice.

In the middle of the continuum, we start to understand Smith and Sobel’s take on the role of place in a community; place is shared. With this perspective of place, it is impossible to separate a location from a community. To really be part of a place, not only means to learn from it (e.g. its history, values, vocabulary, art), but also to begin to take part in its creation. One of Smith and Sobel’s core convictions seems to be that young people should be taught how to become contributors to their communities.

On the far end, Gruenewald introduces unapologetic locative social criticism. He begs us to ponder questions such as: Who holds the most power over the use of a place? Who benefits from a place being understood a certain way? What systems are influencing the design of a place? In this view, not only does the place hold meaning and student’s become agents, but the systems of power are explicitly examined. Gruenewald also asks us to analyze the elements of the community that need to be preserved, transformed, restored and created.

What is local?

The most common idea of local that comes to mind is a geography-based one. So, my backyard is local, then my neighborhood, then perhaps my town or city, etc. This perspective is based more on man-made divisions of place.

Ecologicalist offer another view of locality: Bioregional. Basically, the idea of local here is defined by the watershed (where the water goes). So, for example, my ‘local’ space might be determined by where the water out of my faucet comes from; it is based more on naturalistic divisions of place.

Another important tension that comes up when thinking about what it means for place to be local is residing in versus inhabiting a specific place. Here, we are thinking that residing in means you live there, whereas inhabiting means that you’ve built a meaningful and intentional relationship with the place in which you live. Educators implementing PBL often strive for learners to actively inhabit the place in which they live, but how can this type of relationship with place be cultivated? From a more critical perspective, this becomes a bit messy when you look at what this might mean for learners who move around often compared to learners who have lived in the same place their whole life.

How might ARIS-based experiences be used to support and/or spark critical place-based inquiries?

The ARIS platform has a complex relationship to place — one that we are just beginning to explore and have yet to understand. When engaging in PBL using ARIS it is important to consider that critical is an attribute of the process. Creating on-ramps to critical thinking and discussion about a place is a key characteristic of Grunewald’s take on PBL. Whether this is embedded in the design itself or the experience as a whole, we are beginning to see critical as an invaluable attribute of PBL.

Caution: Recreating a narrative

For instance, one of the potential dangers we have in implementing learner design activities that use primary sources and create place-based media is that the sources themselves typically only offer one perspective. History is often told by the group that holds the power to tell it. Rather than abandon these activities altogether, perhaps we can encourage learners to become more critical of the documented narrative to avoid unquestionably recreating and reinforcing the narrative in power.

Encouragement: Create happenings

ARIS has great potential for creating situations with the intent of changing the way people interact. Whether learners engage with a multitude of perspectives in the design of the game/activity or are encouraged to be critical about the very construction of the game itself as part of the overall experience, there are many opportunities to include hooks to think about values and power structures around place. Creating happenings that prompt students to see a place or space with a different lens is a step in the right direction.

Lingering questions:

How have other disciplines theorized about and engaged with place?

What can we learn about place from past experiences, both our own and others’?

Coming up next… Place-based Inquiry with John Martin.

Until next time,

Mobile Learning Incubator

Academic Technology, DoIT, University of Wisconsin-Madison




ARIS @ Meaningful Play 2012

October 22nd, 2012


Some of the ARIS team (Chris Holden, Seann Dikkers, and I) are at the the Meaningful Play conference at Michigan State University in East Lansing, MI. Chris, being the ARIS advocate that he is, printed off some epic flyers and has been distributing them since we’ve been here.

On Day 2 of the conference, we led a 2.5-hour ARIS workshop. Chris led participants through a basic tutorial of ARIS, guiding them in the creation of a basic narrative-based game. We then demonstrated how the Notebook could be used to engage in easy-to-configure data collection activities. During our break, we sent participants out to play two data-collection games Chris made for the conference: Fall Colors @ Meaningful Play – a collective photography exercise, and Meaningful Games – a game to provoke storytelling around important games in peoples’ lives. The attendees continued playing these games throughout the remainder of the conference, joined by other conference participants.

On Friday (Day 3 of the conference), the three of us delivered a paper that focused on an analysis of the examples of mobile use from the recent book Mobile Media Learning: Amazing Uses of Mobile Devices for Learning. Specifically, Seann took the lead in presenting the paper and used Jim Mathew’s Up the River case as an illustrative example of many of the themes we’ve seen across cases.





I spent my time during the hour-long session making a very special game for Chris: Play Chris Holden! It can be played anywhere and will give players an opportunity to see all of the games that Chris has made. I haven’t had time to complete the full game list yet, but hopefully I will soon – Chris has a lot of ARIS games under his belt.

I’ve found myself talking a lot about the new custom maps feature in the ARIS editor (thanks Garrett!). I personally am really excited about the possibility of making a proper treasure map game using this feature. So, I’m trying to get others equally excited about it! [Hint: stop reading now and go make me a treasure map game on ARIS. (:]

We’ve had a lot of fun here meeting current ARIS users and introducing more people to the platform! It’s been exciting to reunite with some of the non-Madison-based ARIS team, and I am really excited to see what games and partnerships emerge from this conference.

Breanne Litts
Project Assistant, Mobile Learning Incubator
University of Wisconsin-Madison

P.S. After I left, Chris and some other conference participants found some sweet brick inlays…he insisted I share.

He wants to be Super Mario so badly…