November 30, 2015

Spotlight on online experiential learning at Ryerson University

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Lake Devo is one of several e-learning initiatives at Ryerson University

Lake Devo is one of several e-learning initiatives at Ryerson University

A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Digital Education Strategies team at the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University, Toronto.

Ryerson is well known for its DMZ (formerly the Digital Media Zone), one of Canada’s largest business incubators for emerging tech start-ups, but it is by no means the only centre of innovation at Ryerson. As well as being responsible for the design of online learning courses at Ryerson, the Centre for Digital Education Strategies (CDES) has several very interesting e-learning initiatives. 

Online courses

The ‘bread and butter’ work of the CDES is the over 400 online courses, including around 300 degree-credit online and hybrid courses, four part-time degree online and blended programs, 23 fully online certificates, and 22 blended certificates. CDES serves roughly 23,000 online course enrolments a year. Ryerson recently moved from Blackboard to Desire2Learn learning management system to support most of its online courses.

Because of its expertise in online course design, Chang School’s Digital Education Strategies team has been engaged in a number of other innovative e-learning initiatives. The DES team has also built business efficiency tools and interactive learning applications. Each of these deserves a blog post on its own, but in this post I want to give a quick overview of some of the other work of the Centre.

1. Lake Devo

Lake Devo is a virtual learning environment enabling online role-play activity in an educational context. Learners work synchronously, using visual, audio, and text elements to create avatars and interact in online role-play scenarios.

The Lake Devo environment is fully equipped to allow an instructor to set up his/her class as an online collaborative community. He/she may enter students’ information, configure working groups and have the system issue login information to all users.

Lake Devo has been used by a total of ten online instructors, for at least eight different courses, involving over 35 sections of students. Students have developed over 100 different scenarios in Lake Devo (see “Gallery” for examples). 

 2. The Law Practice Program

This unique alternative to traditional articling was established by the Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) and Ryerson University to provide new options and flexibility to meet the legal profession’s licensing requirements for law graduates in Ontario.

The program features interactive web-based collaboration tasks that replicate the experience of working in a law firm. This virtual firm activity is combined with expert guidance and mentorship to equip candidates with the skills and competencies required for effective practice. For a promo video, see:

 3. Serious games

Mental health assessment during a home visit’ is a video-based game in which users practice their skills in a setting that is realistic and allows the user to make clinical choices within a safe environment.

This is another collaborative project involving Ryerson nursing faculty and professors from George Brown College and Centennial College.

4. Professional Development for Online Instructors

 As part of its commitment to offer high quality learning experiences for students, the CDES offers professional development for online instructors. Teaching Adult Learners Online (TALO) is a four-week, hands-on program designed to model effective facilitation techniques, and provide instructors with insight into the learning experiences of online students, while promoting an engaging community of practice.

Drawing on promising practices in online pedagogy and examples from leading open resources such as CU Open, TALO offers a unique experience that is helping to increase online instructor capacity and diversity.

I will do a more complete blog post on each of these initiatives over the next week or so.

Other initiatives

The Centre for Digital Education Strategies is involved in many other e-learning initiatives, including:

  • Providing training on foundations of instructional design principles to Pearson Canada Inc. employees.
  • Free multi-media e-learning modules to help Canadians boost their financial knowledge and plan for their future financial security for the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada (see:
  • A project for the Bombay Stock Exchange to design a train-the-trainer program for effective delivery of a hybrid curriculum on intercultural communication skills for the workplace.
  • A partnership with the University of the West Indies provided students in 12 Caribbean countries with access to a high-quality online programming for their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN). 
  • Entrepreneurial mentor training through an online seminar using interactive case studies and role play.

Further information

 More details of the work of the Centre for Digital Education Strategies can be found here:

More detailed posts on each of the four projects listed above will follow shortly.

Investments in game-based learning and learning technology continues to grow

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Growth in learning technology investment 2

Banville, L. (2015) Reports Highlight Strong Growth and Investor Interest in China, U.S. Game-based Learning Games and Learning, May 31

This is an interesting report that summarizes three major market research reports about investment in game-based learning particularly, and learning technologies in general.

It covers recent reports from the following three market research organizations:

Main results:

  • worldwide sales of game-based learning products hit $1.7 billion in 2013 (Ambient)
  • future growth in game-based learning products is expected to grow between 7%-16% per annum
  • global private investment in learning technologies generally topped $2.4 billion in 2014 (Ambient)
  • consumers are the top buyers of edugame packaged content, particularly in the early childhood market (Ambient)
  • the emergence of easy-to-use mobile game-building tools supports the cultural shift towards game-creation as an educational experience (Ambient).

One driving factor in the most recent growth has been investment in mobile learning companies in China.


Ambient Insight in particular has been extremely accurate in identifying investment trends in learning technologies.

Mobile learning and game-based learning look to be the main bets for commercial growth, followed by learning analytics.

The big question is though whether these investments will drive change in education, or whether the education market will reject one or more of these developments, either because they are too costly or difficult to implement (e.g. very high training costs to get teachers or learners to use them well) or because such technologies do not meet the actual learning needs of students.

Another question is whether the level of investment in any single educational game will be large enough to bring about major changes in learning. The danger is of spreading investment too thinly across too many games to have a major impact, focusing on low levels of learning such as memorization, rather than developing critical thinking or problem solving skills. Ambient Insight’s comment that easy-to-use mobile game-building tools are increasing suggests though that this will be an exciting area that is ripe for growth – and for research and evaluation. I just hope that educators and learners will be as involved as software developers in designing such educational games.

Game-based and immersive courses in a community college system

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SimSprayBradley, P. (2014) Getting in the game: Colorado colleges develop game-based, immersive courses Community College Weekly, March 3

The Colorado Community College System (CCCS) is one of the leading community college systems in exploring new online technologies. I have already reported on their use of remote labs for teaching introductory science courses at a distance. This article looks at the extensive use of immersion and game-based learning in the CCCS:

CCCS set aside $3 million through its Faculty Challenge Grant Program to encourage the development of courses and curriculum focusing on immersion and game-based learning (IGBL). Grants were awarded to 15 projects. The intent was that they would be “lighthouse projects,” illuminating the way for others to follow. Each solution would be scalable, shared with other institutions throughout the 13-college system.

Some of the 15 projects

Projects from this investment include the following:

  • CSI Aurora (Aurora CC) teaches the reality of forensic work through an immersive learning exercise involving a mock crime scene and mock criminal trial, with student participation from the archaeology, forensic anthropology, criminal justice, paralegal and science departments.
  • the Auto Collision Repair program at Morgan Community College purchased a SimSpray immersive virtual reality painting simulation unit, designed to assist in the teaching of spray painting and coating fundamentals. Using SimSpray decreases the expense of paint used to teach spray painting and prevents exposure to potentially dangerous fumes. The 3D SimSpray experience allows students to practice painting before ever stepping into the paint bay (I think in this case the real thing would be more fun!)
  • At Front Range Community College, Project Outbreak is a series of augmented reality scenarios in which microbiology students track and follow a potential epidemic in their local area to its source across international borders. Students use their mobile devices, the TagWhat geolocation app, Google Hangout and Google maps. Scenarios are designed to meet core competencies, promote global connectedness and give students a global perspective in solving real-world problems
  • the Community College of Aurora’s film school is in the process of using a $100,000 grant to create a virtual economy designed to mirror the reality of the studio system, from writing scripts to luring investors to screening the film in front of a real-life audiences. Over the past seven years, the film school has developed proprietary software that allows students to experience — virtually — every aspect of the filmmaking experience. The cost of rental housing in Los Angeles, New York and Denver can be accessed with a few clicks of a mouse. The cost of obtaining equipment can easily be calculated. Students working within a set budget can see how much to devote to paying actors and directors, producers and key grips.
  • an instructor at the the Community College of Denver is using ACCESS, a web-based game modelled after the board game “Life”, whixh simulates a person’s travels through his or her life, from college to retirement, with jobs, marriage, and possible children along the way. ACCESS teaches the course in a flipped format, allowing students to receive information through videos, podcasts, downloadable lectures and social media, and then discuss the materials in class. The course is designed to help students successfully complete remedial coursework.


The article offers the following results from a ‘consultant’s report’ but I couldn’t find any corroboration:

  • where the ACCESS game was used, scores on quizzes jumped 14 percent and 71 percent of students completed the course, compared to 60 percent enrolled without the gaming component
  • students exhibited nearly identical pass/fail rates as non-IGBL courses.
  • 69 percent of students across semesters indicated that they were either more or much more satisfied with their IGBL course, as compared to other courses; 85 percent of students indicated that they were either more or much more satisfied with their IGBL instructor, as compared to other instructors.
  • students indicated that their IGBL course did a better or much better job (as compared to non-IGBL courses) of helping them achieve a variety of learning outcomes, including: having fun while learning (83 percent/73 percent); applying learning to new situations (81 percent/72 percent); staying engaged in learning (79 percent/73 percent); feeling involved in the college (69 percent/60 percent); working well with other students (67 percent/61 percent).

Over to you

Contact North has descriptions of a number of immersive learning projects under its ‘Pockets of Innovation‘ such as Loyalist College’s Border Simulation in Second Life.

See also:


More news of video games

Games to defeat obesity, Napoleon, and students’ learning, and other games’ news

I’d be interested to hear from others who are using game-based immersive learning in the two year college system.

Game-based learning: special edition of the ETS journal

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Forge FX's Heifer Village: Nepal

Forge FX’s Heifer Village: Nepal

Bellotti, F. et al. (2014) Guest editorial: Game-based learning for 21st century transferable skills: Challenges and Opportunities Educational Technology and Society, Vol. 17, No. 1

The Journal of Educational Technology and Society has a special issue on ‘Game-based learning for 21st century transferable skills: Challenges and Opportunities.

This special issue focuses on analysing how digital SGs [serious games] can contribute to the knowledge society’s higher demand towards acquiring transferable, transversal skills, that can be applied in different contexts, dealing with various scientific disciplines and subjects. Examples of such skills, often referred to as 21st century transferable skills, include, for example, collaboration, critical thinking, creative thinking, problem solving, reasoning abilities, learning to learn, decision taking, digital literacy (Voogt & Pareja Roblin, 2010).

Five papers have been selected covering the following topics:

  • a study that identifies a relationship between learning outcomes and physiological measurements of mental workload,
  • an evidence model for assessing persistence
  • two studies on pedagogical models …developed to support the effective use of serious games in formal education settings
  • an empirical investigation aimed at examining the interplay between learners’ motivation, engagement, and complex problem-solving outcomes in game-based learning
  • a large case-study of four formal education programs exploiting serious games based on multiuser virtual environments.

There is also a large number of papers on other topics in this edition. The focus is mainly on the k-12 sector, but the papers on serious games also have implications and potential for post-secondary education.

Online game to help self-management of finances

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AP (2012) NH launches online money management game Vanguard, February 12


The U.S. Treasury Department recently awarded grants to five states to expand financial education and counseling services for prospective homebuyers. While the other states set up more traditional face-to-face counseling programs, the New Hampshire Housing Finance Authority created an online program that includes an educational game aimed at making the process more enjoyable.

The game is set up as a “financial freedom island cruise.” Each island represents lessons on budgeting and credit management. Participants earn money by answering questions correctly or by “spinning” the cruise ship’s wheel for bonus prizes — “You won $400 at bingo!” — though it’s all just part of the game….

The idea for the program stemmed from a family self-sufficiency program the finance authority already offers for people trying to build their assets and get out of poverty.

While there are other websites dedicated to the same topic, they often feature advertising. About 100 people have signed up for the New Hampshire program so far, and the goal is to register at least 600 in the next year and a half.


This won’t of itself solve the US housing mess created by the banks, but it does provide an interesting way of helping people manage their money after they’ve been ripped off by the banks.

But will it also help Americans realise that they cannot get quality public services such as schools and universities if they don’t pay taxes? Now that would be a financial education.