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Clark Aldrich is an education technology thought leader – the author of five books and developer of patent and award-winning projects. He currently builds custom Short Sims for organizations using a revolutionary methodology he has pioneered or helps them build their own, through www.shortsims.com. He is also the host of an audio series called Education X Media (www.edbymedia.com) about evolving pedagogy in academics, corporations, and the military. Clark has just released a few chapters from his newest book, on the topic of Short Sims, at shortsims.com/handbook.
An average day for Clark consists of constructing shorts Sims for various clients and so his goal is to always have a bunch of very different clients, everything from military to academic and non-profits. This consists of interviewing subject matter experts, taking notes, scaffolding out sims and creating them.
One of Clark’s favorite failures is one time he had a very large organization and they wanted him to create a custom leadership simulation for them. Clark tried to make it as much like a computer game in terms of graphics, animation and underlying algorithms but, as a result of that decision, the process ended up taking a lot longer than it should have and cost more for him and the client and the effect was never as good as he had hoped it was.
An early success story of Clark’s was the design of a product called ‘virtual leader’, one of his most famous simulations as well as the highest number of people that have played it. He wanted to create a leadership simulation that was fully game-like and so got a team together and they created 30,000 lines of code, got some game animators and it took a year of incredibly hard work, even working on Christmas morning and his birthday to create it.
This led to a great product and they were able to deploy it in a bunch of different environments including the military but also corporations and academics. It won a bunch of awards and made a lot of money, for Clark a great success.
Clark hands this success to perseverance, in his words “we bit off more than we could chew by a long shot… as a team, we just stuck it out and would not accept failure”. They brought on some insanely talented people from the programming side and from the computer animation side. Having access to some real world-class talent who are able to take some time out of their real schedule made all the difference for them if any of 7 or 8 different people who are involved in it were not committed, Clark thinks, it would have failed.
Clark’s favorite game technique is the learning curve in level design. “How do you create a sim where the first level, the first time someone sits down is self-evident in terms of how to play? The second level is a tiny bit harder, the third level a tiny bit harder. Every single time we’re just slowly expanding people’s skill, slowly allowing them to become more and more comfortable” He thinks this is an incredibly powerful technique from the computer game world that we need to apply to educational content.
One of Clark’s favorite practices is creating short simulations or a “simulation of your simulation”. By creating an interactive storyboard of a game it means you don’t have to make the triple-a game, which is incredibly expensive and hard to change once you’ve built it, and you can take your interactive storyboards and then try that with audiences meaning you know if they love it and you’re on the right track to make a full game. He thinks this is a productive first step, you can create the graphics on PowerPoint, you can use clip art and you can do it in a short time by yourself with no fundraiser.
Clark would recommend Peter Shea to be on the podcast, who is a very deep thinker when it comes to educational experiences and trying to figure out the right path for education. One book Clark wrote is ‘unschooling rules’ which is trying to deconstruct the school experience and rebuild it from elements that exist today as opposed to 100’s of years ago. Peter is a colleague of mine who plays with ‘what is the shape of content going to be in the future’.
Clark probably spent 30 years of his life just reading but over time the format itself became increasingly frustrating for him and now prefers to consume most of his content through podcasts, even the book he last wrote was written more as a reference book to not be in the linear style.
In Clark’s opinion, his superpower is “trying to distill something to its essence” one example he gave was when he was building for the Gates Foundation, making some open-source textbooks on economics, the question was about demand curve. “How do you take a demand curve and help people learn?”. In Clark’s opinion by creating the right experience you don’t have to teach anything; you don’t have to say it. After 5 minutes of playing it you know, you’ve created demand curve and it becomes incredibly self-evident what a demand curve is.
Clark’s last piece of advice is just to go and get a lot of experience under your belt as well as using the short sim approach to test your ideas. Put yourself in as many situations as possible and deal with as many problems as possible. Build all your skills and understand as much as possible.
Clark [at] shortsims [dot] com is Clark’s email and that’s the best place to get a hold of him. You can also go to the web page www.shortsims.com.
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