Archive for 30 November 2011

Gamification and E-Learning 2.0 – Lessons from the UK Criminal Justice System

Firstly I would like to thank the organisers for inviting me to speak today. I always enjoy speaking in this slot, as delegates generally are hungry for information – not food or sleep!

When I was younger I used to come to Olympia with my brother to attend a lot of video game exhibitions, so it is quite appropriate I’m talking to you about gamification, in my first speech at this fine venue. This is what I looked like at one of the exhibitions we went to.

Research recently found that those who play video games have worse education and employment outcomes. How many of you are actually convinced by this? My brothers and I aren’t’ either.

Both my brothers and I have all had good outcomes, gaining degrees and high responsibility jobs. Even one of my brother’s fathers-in-law plays video games regularly and, he has an MBE.

So there must be something in the benefits of video games for enhancing performance at tasks in environments where gaming isn’t usually used, which is a simple definition of gamification.

The first big speech I made, before this one of course, was at a college business competition – business being the game of all games. Our presentation won applause with the catchy music, ‘simply the best, better than all the rest’. But our report did not impress the judges; we didn’t seem to deliver all that was needed beyond the presentation stage. Sound familiar?

These slogans of New Labour, uttered by Tony Blair, were the new props that change the game of British Politics into a media driven one, where getting the best sound-bites and not being off message was the strategy. Despite not living up to most people’s expectations, including mine, the previous government was reasonably successful in realising these slogans. Including increasing university numbers and reducing youth crime. Yet only a year after they left office, we had the UK riots, higher youth crime and higher youth unemployment. So what went wrong? And what do we do about it?

The answer to the first is clear to me – the game has changed, again, and we need to change. The new game is called Network Politics. I am going to consider the case studies of three persons during the rest of the speech and will be asking for your experiences to be shared.

Considering the UK riots, some of you may have heard of the heart-breaking plight of Carla Rees, a 34 year-old musician whose flat and property was burned to destruction in London. She lost at least 10 flutes, which she had based her international contemporary music career on.

Considering the case of Trolling; one of the most high profile was that of Natasha MacBryde, who was bullied by a person called Sean Duffy. The inquest into her death heard that 15-year-old Natasha had also been teased by members of an all-girl clique at her  £10,000-a-year school in the weeks leading up to her death.

Considering Information Poverty. An average man that lives on the Gurnos estate in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, can expect to enjoy good health for just 58.8 years. This is a socially deprived area. Goetre Junior School is not the best place for a pupil with autism, who I shall call Dafydd Young, lack access help to improve their social skills. He and his peers have poor diet, families who are heavy smokers, and severe unemployment. The Internet is sometimes seen as a luxury here, except to those with mobile phones.

You’re probably all wondering what these stories have got to do with gamification and e-learning 2.0. So let me explain both terms to you in detail on the next two slides.

Firstly let us look at Gamification.

As you can see from this slide, gamification is using elements of gameplay typically seen in video games to encourage participation in websites such as online communities.

Gamification pioneer Amy Jo Kim says that the key ingredients that make games fun, compelling, and even addictive are collecting, points, feedback, exchanges, and customisation.

This image you can see on the slide is of a website from the mobile phone provider GiffGaff which uses gamification to keep and gain customers. The service cuts staffing costs by encouraging customers to support those ones with problems. It does this by offering those persons points for each piece of support they offer in the forums and signing up friends. GiffGaff’s model contrasts with those ‘freemium’ ones which are free to use when one signs up, but charges a premium for services .

If you look through the eyes of Dafydd Young who we mentioned earlier you can see that their social environment could benefit from gamification. Humans are naturally competitive. However in Dafydd Young’s community all too often it is a race to the bottom, to see who can be the poorest for instance. They are traditionally persuaded with short-term games like CyberMonday, which where the online retail companies have hyped-up sales on masse to encourage people to shop online for Christmas – the Monday just gone as it happens.

However those like Dafyddd Young could benefit from gamification being used to increase their repertoire of behavioural responses for use in games that look beyond the short-term. Take one game – hypermiling – where people compete with themselves about how much less fuel their use in their car. People like Daffydd, who need clear rules with their autism, could benefit from e-learning 2.0 systems that allow them to interact with their peers while learning essential social skills – two such systems, called PARLE and Vois, are described in reasearch papers on a free USB stick you can collect.

Does anyone have any opinions and experiences on how you think using games could encourage or discourage certain behaviours, or increase others’ repertoire of behavioural response?

Now turning to E-Learning 2.0.

E-Learning 2.0 is a type of e-learning programme where learners from any school or household can access lessons via their computers and mobile devices and have the instruction tailed to them, including ability and interests.

It is not a term I particularly like, as the collaborative aspect of it is something I have argued for over a number of years. But the 2.0 part serves to emphasise the role of social networking more effectively than the original term for this; Computer Supportive Collaborative Learning (CSCL).

This image you can see on the slide is of an E-Learning 2.0 system I devised, back in 2004 when CSCL was a type of E-Learning. The features of the system included the circle of friends that can be found on Facebook where one can add a friend for them to provide social support and peer-based marking.

Now, turning to the main aim of this speech – to show how the UK Criminal law system can further the role of gamification in E-learning 2.0 systems.

As you can see from this slide, I have on the left put legal instruments currently available and to the right the equivalents which through gamification can enhance learning online, specifically with E-Learning 2.0. I will briefly explain them, and then put these into context of the next two slides asking for your input at different stages.

A fixed penalty notice is an on-the-spot fine given for a minor crime. In an E-learning 2.0 systems this could include docking people points, as I showed possible in my degree thesis in 2002.

ASBOs are court orders which restrict someone actions by saying if they perform a prohibited set of actions named in that order then they can go to jail for 2 years. These have been used on many people in Merthyr Tydfil like Dafydd Young. The equivalent instrument in an E-learning 2.0 system is the behaviour contract as I highlighted in my 3rd Masters thesis last year.

Other instruments like dispersal orders to break up gangs could be reflected by temporarily banning people who get into arguments, or in the case of detention for breach of the peace people could be required to express their frustration in a safe ‘sin bin’ which I call the displacement room.

A concept I devised in 2002 was The Digital Classroom of Tomorrow and this is an ideal system on which to implement these. This is based on the premise that the large class-sizes in state schools are not a problem in themselves, as technology can transform learning by removing the ‘sage on the stage’ teacher from the education system. Students do not want to be lectured at these days, as they have their own worldview that is all too often different from the teachers’.  I call this ‘Classroom 2.0’, as it mixes the collaborative software associated with E-Learning 2.0 with the traditional classroom setting rather than replace that setting with 100% distance learning.

DCOT could be realised to allow mixed ability students in a class of 30 to assemble around tables of 6, interacting with an E-Learning 2.0 multi-user virtual learning environment on their laptops so as to create Classroom 2.0. This ‘one-laptop-six-at-a-table’ policy would not work without customisation as Amy Jo Kim points out.

Using customization in e-learning systems, particularly using gamification concepts, can mean interest is maintained in the environment, without the over-dependence on the teacher from the broadcasted approach to education, still found in most schools today.

If you look at this next slide you can see there are different types of platform for e-learning 2.0 systems, which can use the customisation in the Digital Classroom of Tomorrow.

Adjusting content based on learner interests. For instance if Carla was at school, she might find English lessons more interesting if she was asked to ‘Describe five adjectives that describe your favourite music instrument the flute. Weblogs which are updatable can do this well, and can be revised and commented on by other learners but not edited by them.

Wikis and hypertext fiction can allow a user to modify content to improve skills such as with regards to use of English. This can involve adjusting the content on grounds of ability. Someone at a basic level of understanding could be asked to ‘List’ five adjectives, someone with moderate abilities could be asked to ‘Describe’ five adjectives, and the most advanced toto ‘synthesise five adjectives’.

Chatroom and message boards could be improved through docking people points if they perform a behaviour that is banned on the basis of a ‘behaviour contract’, which sets of the rules of the game, in order to build consensus among the students. This could involve automatic detection and deduction.

Also possible is having a system where the status of the user can be changed so that they are no longer able to access the main part of the system if they treat others unfavorably for instance.

Does anyone else have any examples of things they have found useful for engaging people online and managing behaviour?

Finally, before opening up to the floor, I want to talk briefly about Trollers, and the role they can play in gamified e-learning 2.0 systems.

Many of you will have heard about trolling in the press and probably associate it with people who want to harm others. This was true in the case of Natasha MacBryde. However I argue that trolling, which is simply posting a humorous message to provoke a reaction in others, or his own sick fun in Sean Duffy who bullied Natasha.

If you look at the different types of Troller on this slide. The Flirts troll by posting reflections of funny things that have happened in their lives. Snerts on the other hand post to harm others, for their own sick entertainment. Trolls post more inflammatory messages that go against the grain of someone in order to entertain the community at large, such as by mocking the Snerts. Their less constructive equivalent, the Big Man, troll by saying things others disagree with but they strongly hold to, knowing others will react with consternation so they can have fun proving them wrong.

The My heart bleeds for you Jennies do trolling by posting messages that make light of a current situation in order to put another at ease. Their opposite, the E-Venger, posts hurtful messages in order for them to feel happier for something they felt wronged by.

The Ripper posts self-deprecating messages that make them feel happier, even though they are not looking for solutions as such. Their opposite, the Chatroom Bob, posts entertain messages in order to gain the trust of the other person, who they then exploit for their own ends.

And lastly, the Wizard will troll to be creative, such as posting a joke they made up. The Iconoclasts on the other hand will either remove content or post messages that challenge the legitimate world views of others.


Trolls and snerts

AN I ask if Steve Rotheram MP ever reads the ECHO? If he did, then maybe he’d have seen my letter before jumping on the anti-trolling bandwagon (Stop Trolling says MP, Nov 18).

As an emerging prize-winning authority on trolling I have read as much as I have written. Those in the field like to distinguish trolling from trollers and trolls. Trolling is basically posting a provocative message with the intention of entertaining (called “posting for the lulz”). The collective word for anyone who does trolling is a troller.

Instead of tarring all the trollers with the same brush, Mr Rotheram should look into the issue. Genuine trolls only do trolling to entertain others, whereas it is the snerts that post to harm others for their own sick entertainment.
Far from trolling being new, it has existed in name since the 1980s. Mr Rotheram should save his time introducing a Private Members Bill: New Labour criminalised trolling by snerts in the Communications Act 2003, as he would know if he was to read the free information available on my Trolling Academy website –

Your View – Wales on Sunday

I was pleased to read Rachael Misstear’s report (“Sick Trolls Target Sex Abuse Teenager”, last week’s front page) that police are looking into dealing with the cowardly internet users who preyed on a sex abuse victim through what Rachel describes as “trolling” . Victims of crime often turn to online communities to try to deal with their situation. Instead of meeting the “MHBFY [My heart bleeds for you] Jennies” who empathise with them, they all too often meet the “Snerts” who seek to harm, who are not the same as “Trolls” who are good humoured.

Trolling is the posting of messages to entertain and those who do it are collectively known as “Trollers”. When a Snert does trolling, it is to harm others for their own sick entertainment. When a MHBFY Jenny does trolling, it is to help someone see the lighter side of life and come to terms with their situation.

As the founder of the Swansea-based Trolling Academy, my advice to people who want to get support online is to find websites dedicated to their concern. Once they find this, they should do what is called “lurking”, by looking at the other posts without joining, to see if they are friendly and helpful, and they should only join if they are.

If anyone knows or believes a child is being abused, they should ring the NSPCC on 0808 800 500. Children should ring Childline on 0800 1111.

Ethically and legally removing the powers of the banksters

Many people don’t realise when they complain about businesses rewarding shareholders, they may actually be talking about themselves. I own shares in one of Europe’s biggest energy firms and one of the world’s biggest technology firms. Most of the shares in these companies are owned by the banks, who manage our pensions and ISAs on behalf of the public. But as you’d expect the banks always vote on their terms, not those of their customers.

So what needs to happen is that the funds managers who make the decisions on how to vote are fully separated from where our money is held. This would mean that if everyone’s shares were managed by a not-for-profit ethical funds manager, then they would be able to vote on mass to not approve the extreme directors remuneration packages at the AGM, and could appoint ethical directors and not those who don’t look after the interests of the shareholders. That is us! – The ISA and Pension holders.

I know as a minor shareholder it makes no difference how I vote, because the banks will always have the most votes. So if the government could change the rules we could stop the banks managing our ISA/Pension shares then we could appoint directors who will act in our interests.

Also, if the Government own 51% of the shares in the banks, why don’t they vote on to the boards ethical directors who act in the interests of the public, including the share-owning public? I further think the Government, as a shareholder in the banks, should request to see the contracts of the bankers will million bonuses – even a Formula 1 driver’s contract has penalty clauses. There may be something in there that means the banksters could be dismissed for on the grounds of ‘gross misconduct’ for their actions. If not, we should question whether the directors who approved those contracts acted in the interests of shareholders by rewarding unethical behaviour, and if not should they face penalties under the Companies Act?

Do European laws give pro-choice rights on abortions to fathers?

It is a basic premise of both European Human Rights Law and European Union Law that a right to do something also includes the right not to do something.

Take the ECHR right to found a family. This also includes the right not to found a family. So should men, who have conceived a child, have equal rights to have their potential child aborted as the women they’ve impregnated? I think so.

The ECHR equally says that someone should not be deprived of their property without proper compensation. I think seeing as an absent father could be expected to pay child maintenance for a child for at least 16 years, then if he chooses not to found a family and the mother wants to keep the child, he should have to be compensated in some other way if he is being deprived of his financial property because his human right to not found a family is being broken.

European Union Law prescribes that there should be no discrimination on the grounds of sex. So by not giving men the right to abort their inseminated foetus they are being treated less favourably than women.

I think if women want the benefit of a natural man’s DNA without their full consent, then they should be responsible for the costs of maintaining the use of that DNA.

I’m an EU Law Expert – Fiscal Union was not my idea

A eurosceptic friend, John Hopkinson, writes on his blog about how conveniently people now support fiscal union for the eurozone and argue who thought of it first.

I  have been arguing the opposite for nearly ten years, including in my submission to the Richards Commission.

As someone who supports UK entry to the euro, but only when our interest rates have been stable for a significant period of time at the same rate of the eurozone, and the exchange rate, which would also need to be stable, would result in the value of wages and goods in the UK being the same as the EU, in order to avoid high inflation.

In my view, as a dual Master of Economics and a Master of EU Law those calling for fiscal union don’t know what they are talking about.

If the political elite lack the ability to converge their economies using a single interest rate, how can they be expected to with a single tax regime across the eurozone?

The only way for the eurozone countries economies to converge is for each region of each member state to converge its economies by varying income and business taxes (e.g. business rates, corporation tax), and use the single interest rate as a baseline to set them.

The channel tunnel could not have been built if the French engineers were drilling in a different direction to the British ones. Equally the eurozone won’t be stable if the economies aren’t converged heading in the same direction.

Is Nick Robinson biased against Labour?

In an almost thuggish way, Tom Watson said that Nick Robinson didn’t report the phone hacking scandal enough because he was ‘favouring the Conservatives’ to put it more delicately.

I know how he feels. It annoyed me that Ed Miliband was getting the headlines on the hacking scandal over true experts like myself who have published research on ‘data misuse’ laws. I made the BBC clear of this dissatisfaction when they basically ignored my expertise.

But let us look at the news articles since 1995 on claims of bias against Nick Robinson as evidence.

March 1995 – Claims of bias were made against Nick Robinson by Labour when he sent a memo, as they saw it, trying to cover up the preferential treatment where the BBC Panorama programme, which Robinson was deputy editor of, interviewed John Major as Prime Minister, but did not offer the same prominence to the other leaders.

August 1995 – The London Evening Standard publishes a story, titled, ‘Labour sees red over new BBC reporter’, which highlights the fact that since March 1995 the party felt that Nick Robinson’s presentation of facts on Panorama were biased in favour of the Tories.

March 2003 – In the Times Nick Robinson, who is currently the ITV political editor, notes in an article there might be a problem with Labour’s perception of him. Highlighting the times that Peter Mandelson would be complaining to the Director General of the BBC about his apparent bias.

May 2003 – For the first time on record ‘anti-Tory bias’ and ‘Nick Robinson’ come together. This time in it is in The Times, with him commenting on the pressure being on Greg Dyke at the BBC and not himself, as Robinson is still working for ITV.

This all builds up to a shock confession:

October 2003 – The Independent runs an article, ‘I do not regret my Tory past, Nick Robinson, ITV’s News’s Political Editor’ which shows that Robinson was once significantly involved with the Conservative movement. The article says he has received claims of bias from both sides, which I might expect having spoken with the editor of my local paper who received the same, but unless the Conservatives have a different word for ‘bias’ I see little evidence of this in my brief search!

I will not look further into the articles, as I became politically active around 2002 in the Labour Party, even speaking to Nick on the Radio 5 Live about how a speech by Tony Blair hit a cord with me, just before he went to ITV I think – On Radio 5 Live he and Brian Hayes were my favourite presenters of that era. On his move to ITV I did start to think he was biased against the Labour Government, but then I would expect no different, as the ITV News programmes that he was reporting for have always seemed to me to be the Tabloid Newspaper of Evening TV, changing the tone of the programme to try to capture the public mood regardless of accuracy.

As I am now a Professional, it is this revelation in October 2003 that strikes me the most salient, even above all the past claims of bias. It is unethical for any professional to take up any form of employment where there can be a ‘perception of bias’, whether they are a former government minister taking up a position in a publicly funded body in the same area afterwards, or a sports official who is refereeing a match where a first-line relative is of the same nationality as one of the competitors.

So, in essence, however much I like him, as someone who famously got insulted for holding an apparently undesirable physical characteristic, by George W Bush of all people, I think he should seriously consider his position.

Even if he is perfectly capable of, on most days, creating a perception of impartiality in line with BBC guidance, is it worth the constant claims of bias against him, and this the questioning of his professionalism, to be in an environment where he can be easily perceived to be biased?

Concluding the issue on the assumption of ‘good faith’ on the part of Robinson, I would say that the reason this perceived bias is so persistent is that Nick is likely to draw on the same social networks that took him into the Conservative Party in the first place, so therefore he is more likely to represent a ‘Tory perspective’ than a Labour one.

So I’d like the BBC and other media outlets to take steps to ensure that it is not the same people from the Old Boys’ Networks that get represented in the media, but many others who have expertise but might not normally make it into public life. If they were to do this then the perceptions of bias, whether ‘left-wing’, ‘liberal’, ‘all-White’, or whatever, would start to disappear.






Policy on cannabis and other recreational drugs

My position on the manufacture and supply of cannabis and other unregulated ‘street drugs’ is now pretty simple. If we are going to allow them to be lawfully used, then regulation and not decriminalisation is the only course of action I’m willing to support.

Decriminalisation of cannabis is, in my opinion, a charter for legalising organised crime, including forced prostitution, organised paedophilia, human trafficking, etc.

Regulation would be the only realistic option, as the manufacture and distribution could be ensured to be made up of lawful activity only and could have the benefit of driving the organised criminals out of the market.

Cannabis, whether the cannabis lobby like it or not, is a potentially dangerous drug. Long-term misuse can result in psychosis – in my view this is because misuse can result in the brain no longer being able to self-regulate dopamine and serotonin levels. But this is why it should be legalised and regulated. I would do it as follows:

  • Apply the same taxation procedures as for cigarettes;
  • Have similar rules on consumption levels as for alcohol; and
  • Have the same point-of-sale advice and restrictions on purchase quantities as paracetamol.

A low dose of cannabis could be safe for recreational use, where as too high a dose could lead to long-term problems, like chronic mental health issues. Same as with alcohol, and in the case of cigarettes the long -term effects can be fatal, often unlike cannabis.

Even so, my fourth way question is – why legalise a millennia old drug like cannabis, which has these well documented risks from long-term use and abuse, when there is potential profit to be made by the pharmaceuticals designing and patenting new and safe recreational drugs? This could drive up innovation in the economy, and mean that the checks and balances in place for medical drugs could be in place for recreational drugs. Pharmaceuticals are unlike to want to develop medicines based on cannabis as they are unlikely to be patentable, meaning they won’t get their money back. So unless the government start letting health mutuals get cheaper licences for proven uses, so old out of patent drugs will be failed to be used for new affordable purposes.

So my policy on recreational drugs is that their design, manufacture and distribution should regulated and they should only be available for sale if they pass what I call the ‘safe sex pill test’. That is, if the risks to the person using them are easily as understandable as the contraceptive pill, and pose no more harm to them than that potentially can do at a safe dose, then it should be available in licenced premises  for recreational use. If the risks of misuse are so high, as with cannabis, then that is more reason to legalise and regulate it and not less!


Are Women’s rights of higher importance than children and others?

It is not very often these days that reading a news article can fill me so quickly with rage, but this one on the Conservative Party website:

The Tories are basically saying:

The anger I felt, as a male victim of both childhood sex abuse and domestic violence was nothing that even the ancient God Thor would ever have experienced. Fortunately, as I went to an independent private specialist school under the last Conservative Government, I have learned how to channel these for creativity and to campaign for social justice, and I set out my solution below.

Within days of coming to power Theresa May scrapped the whole of the Vetting and Barring Service (VBS), seemingly only because it was unpopular because the last Government went too far in changing the definition of who needed to be checked.

The previous definition of who needed to be checked – ‘Anyone with substantial, unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults’ – was fine. But Ms May appeared rather than getting an immediate grip on the situation and seeing the wood for the trees, threw out the baby with the bathwater!

The VBS that the last Government proposed was intended to make it much easier for not-for-profit organisations like mine to find out whether someone was allowed to work for us based on their criminal history.

This would not only make it easier for us administratively, but protect the privacy of suitable candidates also.

It aimed to bring all records together, including the sexual offences register, so finding out whether someone can work with children or vulnerable adults would be as simple as ringing up HMRC or using Government Gateway to see if someone is registered with the Construction Industry Scheme and what their tax treatment is. I have had direct commercial experience of both the CIS and CRB services, and would say the CIS is the model to follow.

If Ms May had any common sense then she would realise the VBS could be used for her sexist plan, but also be equally open to all persons and organisations who are making a decision about whether to recruit someone or otherwise engage in a relationship with them, regardless of their sex, simply by changing the definition of ‘vulnerable adult’ to include those who think they are at risk of domestic abuse.

As a Chartered IT Professional Fellow, it is my golden rule that one should never introduce a new IT system where an existing one can be upgraded for the same purpose. So Ms May might want to look at whether the Construction Industry Scheme, which uses NI Numbers, Company Numbers, and UTRs as identifiers could be extended to cost effectively allow the Government Gateway to be used for the VBS like it is for the CIS.

Ms May might want to look at this option in the forthcoming Protection of Freedoms Bill.

Why fiscal union won’t work in the Eurozone

Every man and his dog old premier are now patting the Eurozone leaders on the back for coming up with the idea of ‘fiscal union’ for the Eurozone. This was something that was opposed under both Thatcher and Blair, even with strong pressure from the rest of the EU.

Having fiscal union makes no sense at all. Fiscal union basically means that all the ways in which the government can influence demand and inflation, such as taxes, interest rates, money supply, are the same across the whole of the EU.

The reason we are in the crisis we are in is because countries like Greece, not only being economically unstable, suffered high inflation when joining the Eurozone, and the single interest rate meant it’s economy was growing and contracting at a different rate to the rest of the Eurozone due to lack of ability of its government to influence money supply because it couldn’t keep to the ‘growth and stability pact’.

I think that the single interest rate is however important – it sets a ‘base-line’ for which all the EU counties and their inter-country regions can work towards in order to converge their local economies with the rest of the EU over the long-term.

I believe, as I have for nearly 10 years that fiscal policy needs to be set at a regional level and not a national one, so certainly not at a supranational EU-wide level.

One just needs to look at the UK to see why this should be the case. Because fiscal policy in the UK is based around what is good for the South East of England, then this is making it difficult for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to grow their economies. If however the economies of these countries were run on the basis that their local tax policies were for the purpose of adjusting taxes to take account of the single interest rate, then there would be greater economic convergence over a longer period which would bring economic benefits to the regions in terms of equal prosperity in terms of wages, lifestyles and goods prices.

A policy moving towards harmonisation of fiscal policy for the whole of the Eurozone without first achieving economic convergence will only make problems worse. This is because a single fiscal policy could only ever work if each part of the Eurozone economy was fully converged. As we know the economies in Greece, Germany, France and Italy are so different that centralising fiscal union rather than decentralising it further will only make matters worse.

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