some thoughts on AERA 2012

I just got back from AERA 2012, which was in Vancouver, British Columbia during the past week. It was my fourth AERA, and I hadn’t attended last year because I had basically sworn off the conference and decided I wasn’t going to go very frequenly anymore. Luckily, I was invited to a session at NCME (the sister conference to AERA that was co-occurring) and decided to go (it also didn’t hurt that the conference was in Vancouver). It turned out to be a great conference all around, and I went to a few good sessions and met with lots of old and new friends and colleagues.

The best thing about AERA usually is that everyone goes to AERA. I heard that this year there were over 13,000 people registered. That’s a bit crazy. This huge zoo is people is usually one of the reasons that I don’t like AERA, but for some reason it didn’t seem so bad this time around. Perhaps it was the way the conference center centre and hotels were located/configured, which forced people to walk around and run into people more than in other places. Or maybe it was that many of us chose not to get international cell/data packages and were reliant on congregating in certain places having wifi (and then consequently spreading around the passwords for the wifi). Whatever it was, I ended up running into lots of people that I wanted to talk to and had lots of interesting discussions.

I think also that one difference this time around was that I felt that for the first time I was able to help start connecting other people together, instead of relying on my advisors and professors to connect me to people they knew. That type of thing still happened, of course, and is an essential part of academic networking, but I was taking on that role for other, younger researchers now. And that felt kind of nice.

One particularly interesting set of conversations centered around using games in classrooms, how students might be viewing educational games within the context of a classroom setting, and how that context might (a) change how the student views the game/simulation and/or (b) change the type and amount of learning that is possible in that game (versus an out-of-school, informal, or student-directed session). This could possibly be highly dependent on what educational value the student might attach to the game outside of the classroom in the first place. For example, a commercial game being used in the classroom might have a larger “learning differential” than a game specifically designed to be used for learning (either informally or in a classroom). Definitely something to think some more about.

Vancouver was also a great city to visit. We had wonderful weather almost the entire time, which just highlighted how beautiful the city is. There was lots of great food to be eaten, especially seafood (yum!).

On my last afternoon, I (along with some others) went to the Vancouver Aquarium. It was a really nice facility and I would totally recommend going there if you are visiting and you like awesome things. Here are a couple pictures of the aquarium and Vancouver. More pictures will be posted soon (somewhere).


Part of the Vancouver skyline, from Stanley Park.


Awesome jellyfish at the Vancouver Aquarium.


Part of the sea lion feeding/training non-show.


Baby clownfish. Awww.


Totem pole exhibit in Stanley Park.


Watching sea planes land from the Convention Centre.

[side note: all of these pictures were taken with my iPhone 4 because (a) it’s what I had with me the entire time and (b) my better camera just broke.]

Don’t believe everything you hear

Yesterday I saw this BBC video about the McGurk effect. Basically, it’s a phenomenon where your brain interprets sounds differently based on what you are seeing. It’s a really amazing and robust effect, especially since it is not dependent on you not knowing about it.

This reminds me a lot of when I was teaching undergraduate physics labs and we would do the famous ball drop experiment where you would release two balls (same size but different mass) from the same height and see which one hits the ground first. The majority of these intro students would usually predict that the more massive ball would hit the ground first (a common intuition to have). The interesting thing was that a few of these students would still think this after we had done the experiment.

I remember asking some of them why they still thought that the more massive ball hit the ground first. And inevitably, some of them would say, “I heard it hit first.” At the time, this seemed kind of crazy to me because I had been there and heard the two balls hit at the same time and other people in their group had also heard them hit together. But they insisted that they heard a separation.

Later when I started studying science education I learned the name for this phenomenon: theory-laden observations. The students thought that the more massive ball would hit first and this influenced how they took in information and therefore their observation confirmed this idea. However, it seems possible that it might be even more complicated than that. Although the McGurk effect seems primarily to be focused on hearing different phonemes and sounds based on lip movements, it’s possible that the parts of the brain being confused in that area are the same as the ball-drop phenomenon. Students *think* they see the massive ball hit first and therefore *hear* it hit first.


(via kottke)

last day in Hong Kong

I am leaving to go back to the states very early tomorrow morning, so today is my last full day here and of course it’s rainy and gross (although, I suppose I should be happy that it wasn’t like this the entire time). Luckily I had a bunch of work to do anywhere, so staying in my hotel room was kind of the general plan for most of the day anyway. (I decided against going to Ocean Park for many reasons, most of which were confirmed when I woke up still exhausted this morning and then also looked out the window.)

The last two days were filled with many awesome things which I will delve into more with future posts. Highlights include: going to Lantau Island (awesome cable car ride, giant Buddha statue, amazing view of some islands in the South China Sea), awesome (and inexpensive) sushi, amazing dim sum with the locals, watching the final horserace of the season with about 80,000 of my closest friends, and stores that sold only old school and/or hard to find LEGO mini-figs and other related geeky products. In short, it was a good weekend. I am also now really tired and looking forward to getting back to my normal level of exhaustion. :)

The conference was also really great and I was able to reconnect with old friends/colleagues and meet lots of new people and hear about all sorts of interesting projects and ideas that were floating around. This conference was especially great due to the great diversity of researchers, both in terms of intersecting and complementary fields of study but also in terms of backgrounds and countries and educational contexts. I think they said the conference had about 400 attendees from 38 different countries! Pretty cool.

Hong Kong day 3

Tuesday morning started out pretty good. Elizabeth and I went in search of a bakery a couple of blocks from our hotel, and thanks to Google maps and my sense of direction we were able to find it really easily. We each got an assortment of undescribed buns and then Elizabeth headed to the University for her workshop and I went back to the hotel to do some work.
For lunch I braved the extreme heat and humidity to do some exploring. I took the ding ding (awesome double decker trams) to the MTR station (awesome subway) over to Causeway Bay, on the eastern side of Hong Kong Island. I was on the search for Mak’s Noodle which I heard was really good. It took me forever to find it even though I knew where it was supposed to be; this was due mostly to the almost ridiculous amount of Chinese signs, people, restaurants, shops, and people in this very concentrated area. Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areas (it might actually be the most) in the world and I totally believe it. Well, I finally found the noodle place and ordered some shrimp dumpling noodle soup, which arrived quickly. It was extremely delicious. My only complaint was that it was a pretty small bowl and I could’ve easily eaten twice that much.
After lunch I headed over to the nearby Victoria Park, which is a large public park. The park had free wifi which was pretty awesome, but it was extremely humid and I was starting to melt. There were some nice gardens, tennis courts, and a jogging track (that many people were actually running on!) but I was needing to find air conditioning and didn’t stay too long.
On the walk back to the MTR station, just when I was thinking that some ice cream would be perfect, I walked right by an IKEA! I was so excited! I walked through it, partly for the air conditioning and partly because I was curious as to how similar it would be to all of the other IKEAs I have been to. The only two real differences were that all of the signs were in Swedish,
English, and Chinese (instead of just Swedish and English) and that it was a lot smaller than a usual IKEA. I got my ice cream cone and happily headed back to the hotel.
Tuesday evening I went back up to the University for the public forum that was starting the conference off which was pretty interesting (it included both learning scientists and policy makers from all over the world). There was a short reception after this which ran out of food and booze waaaay too quickly (this has continued to be true throughout the conference).
For dinner, about 30 of us headed to a vegetarian restaurant in the mid-levels area called Pure Veggie House. We had an 11 course meal served family style. Almost all of the courses were really delicious. I had probably 10 different kinds of mushrooms in all sorts of combinations, as well as some soups and curries and other yummy things. After dinner, we headed over to a bar area that we heard was pretty cool and it was very different than other areas of Hong Kong. Someone in our group said it reminded them of Bourbon St. There were a bunch of bars all lined up next to each other and people walking around with beers. There were also a group of roaming monks (at least they were pretending to be monks) trying to sell beads and a bunch of other people selling light up headbands and glasses. After one (relatively) expensive beer (a Guinness, which tasted kind of off), I headed back to the hotel to get some sleep.

Hong Kong!

I arrived in Hong Kong late on Saturday (which, since I left Madison on Friday morning, felt really strange). It was a very long flight (about 15 hours), but wasn’t too terrible overall. There was a really good selection of movies on our personal seat-back TVs and I was sitting with Elizabeth (who I was traveling with from Madison) and luckily another CSCL conference-goer who was very nice and knew a lot of the same people that I did and all three of us had lots to talk about.

We took a cab in from the airport (which is on one of the outlying islands) and driving in we were amazed at the huge harbor and the density of the skyscrapers and shipping containers and buses and people. We almost immediately went to sleep and although I woke up a couple times during the night, I woke up feeling really rested and energized.

The major drawback here is the extreme humidity. It is oppressive. The forecast for the entire week is basically 90 and really humid, with a chance of thunderstorms on some days (it hasn’t rained yet, though). I’m not sure that I have ever sweated this much.

Sunday a big group of us (me, Elizabeth, Ben, Marcela, Vanessa, and Garrett) did some exploring. They let me lead them around the city and I think we did a good job of a) not really getting lost and b) doing a lot of sightseeing and activities. The first thing we did was take one of the old rickety double decker trams over to the Central area of HK Island and then walked through Hong Kong Park on our way to the peak tram up to Victoria Peak. This is the highest point in HK and has an amazing view of the place. After we took lots of pictures, we found a place to have lunch. I got some Indonesian style fried rice which was super delicious. Other people got curry or noodles or things like that, as well some interesting pear or tangerine tea drinks.  Then we headed back down the tram and walked over to the MTR (the awesome subway) to go to the Sheung Wan area to see the Man Mo Temple which had some really neat conical incense everywhere. There were also lots of old shops with interesting things for sale (the temple is on the oldest street in HK). We then headed over to the Western Market which had a couple shops, a whole floor of fabric, and a wedding reception about to happen on the third floor.

After this our group split up a bit, and Elizabeth, Vanessa, and I took the MTR up to Kowloon to go to the night market and the ladies’ market. These were composed of stall after stall selling all sorts of things, mostly fake designer handbags, toys, scarves, remote controlled helicopters, clothes, bowls, paintings, and more fake designer handbags. After that we stopped at a vegetarian place and got some dim sum which was pretty tasty. Then Elizabeth and I headed back to the hotel to crash.

Today I am hanging out at the University’s library, getting some work done and preparing my talk for Wednesday. Looking forward for the conference to actually start!

new blog!

yes, I have changed blog sites yet again.

upcoming things:

trip to Hong Kong (next week!!) for CSCL 2011 and a bit of sightseeing. should be awesome.

lots of writing, getting journal articles out about lots of various things I am working on

Wisconsin summer (way better than Wisconsin winter so far)

other exciting things (hopefully)

more things written in parentheses (most likely)