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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.


That was week 84

This week went by so quickly my head's spinning. Wow.

Sunday just gone I had the first of my 'real' data gathering sessions. We ran the Green Revolution game as part of the STEPS summer school. 16 participants, 1 inexperienced game manager, a similarly inexperienced (and overly nice) banker, and our project sponsor. It was a long, tiring, fascinating day, and that was with our sponsor leading the wrap-up. Really interesting to see the game played, picked up some useful tips for our game, and I got my first set of questionnaires filled out.

Monday I was absolutely wiped out. We had a set of interviews for a lecturer position in the lab (I was only involved as an audience member for the presentations) which somehow seemed to take up the entire day. Probably because I was too tired to really think!

Tuesday I started processing stuff, getting my data into Excel, sorting all the paperwork etc. Not done any stats yet, still reading up and deciding what I'm trying to do. I started writing up about my questionnaire, study design and so on, and found a file where I'd wrote down a lot of that stuff when I put the questionnaire together before Christmas. People say you'll thank yourself if you start writing stuff down early. I'm thrilled with myself! Amazing how quickly you forget that stuff.

Wednesday and Thursday I tried to get back into code writing. I can't finish my studies until that stuff is done! Didn't achieve as much as I'd hoped. Started working on the diet screen, some back end stuff done but not a lot to show.

The week ended on a bit of a high though. We had a Doctoral School BBQ in blazing sun, with a showing of The PhD Movie to follow. Sometimes it's good to have a guilt-free break!

Been a slightly unproductive week I guess, but continuous forward motion has been maintained.


That was week 83

I've decided I'm going to try to do weekly round ups of what I've been doing, just to keep track. I think this is around week 83 of the DPhil, roughly. I think I'm slightly past half way. (Eep!)

This week I have mostly been preparing to run a game of Green Revolution as part of the IDS STEPS programme. Coincidentally it should provide me with 1/4 of my data, so quite a big deal.

Last Sunday I ran a session with 5 friends who knew each other playing the Riener Knizia Lord of the Rings board game. The aim was to get them to play then fill out my questionnaire as a test. I bribed them with ample cake, tea and coffee, which turned out to be a good thing because Sauron got the lot of them around the end of Shelob's lair. It isn't the easiest game to get to grips with. Still, they say they had fun, or at least that the cake was good.

In starting to process the data from that I rejigged a couple of things about my questionnaire that hadn't seemed terribly important when I wrote it. Stuff like question numbers, adding a code for the game. Nothing earth-shaking, which was a result actually.

We had a go at running through the Green Revolution game on Thursday morning. Very useful. Remember to shuffle the cards first! Fingers crossed we've got to grips with it enough, and have enough copies of everything.

On the project I've been trying to get to grips with the data structure for the food and diet allocation side of things. I'm struggling a little bit with player characters vs non-playing characters, both of which need to be fed but reside in different database tables. I'll work it out once I concentrate on it properly.

I put a 2-page WIP paper in to Fun and Games 2012. Fingers crossed!

I met with my supervisor on Tuesday, plenty to be getting on with. I really need to find time to do more writing.

Today we had our lab meeting, where I got people to discuss the sources they use for inspiration and/or keeping up to date. It was quite a good discussion. I checked with my supervisor and I'm going to take responsibility for filling the last 4 lab meetings of term. She nearly bit my hand off! I'm hoping I can draft some other lab members in for a couple of sessions, but I'm going to need to be quite persuasive I think.

The reading group was watching a TED talk this week, Ken Robinson on how schools kill creativity. It sparked some interesting discussion.

Possibly stretched the exercising this week, I've been a little tired. Ran 4 miles both Tuesday and Thursday, and cycled around 15 on Wednesday. Fingers crossed a couple of early nights will sort that.

Looking forward to getting Sunday done. I'm sure it'll be fine, but I'll be happier when it's done.


In plain English

The Sussex Library has a special area called the Research Hive for graduates and researchers. In theory it's supposed to be a collaborative space, but in practice it tends to be a very quiet area! They also put on different events and workshops for students. Currently they are 'inviting' (some might say challenging!) doctoral researchers to write about their research in plain English - or at least plain enough for someone outside their discipline to understand. And there's a slim chance of £15 of Amazon vouchers! Naturally I had to give it a go.

We all know that game play can be massively altered by the rules of the game. For example, deliberately kicking the ball off the pitch in rugby (where returning the ball to the field of play gives either team a chance of winning the ball back) is a much more acceptable practice than in football (where the team who last touched the ball is disadvantaged). Do the rules also change the way we feel about our fellow players?  
I am part of a project team that is trying to create an online multiplayer game based on two board games. These board games have very different rules around the way that players relate to each other. I am hoping to use aspects of social identity theory to analyse these rule differences and predict the effects on the game players. Social identity theory examines the effects different group situations have on the individual's commitment to that group. For example, if people cannot change their group membership they identify more strongly with that group even if the group is not doing well. In one of our games, players are able to change teams whilst in the other they can't. This suggests that players should bond together more strongly in the game where they can't.
I am aiming to test the two board games and also make two versions of the online game, which will hopefully allow me to compare the effects of these rule differences in both face-to-face and online situations. Ultimately this will allow us to choose the most appropriate set of rules for our game, as well as showing that we can use findings from other disciplines to shape social interactions in a game.
What do you think? Plain enough? English enough?! Too many commas is my normal problem! Actually, it took me longer than I thought it would to come up with that. Kind of sounds a bit too simple now. 
There are things afoot here, studies in the offing and things like the annual review on the horizon. Plenty to keep my little brain whirring, and hopefully more to post about very soon.





I have ethics approval. I am now allowed to conduct my experiments...

(Not that they are particularly ethically troublesome. Still, it's progress! All progress is good progress.)


Practicing on the lab

Last Friday I lead the lab group meeting for the first time since I started. I've seen other PhD students do it, and lab group members often 'use' the lab group as a testing ground for ideas and presentations, or if they have something they want to talk through. I am in the process of trying to write the questionnaire to use as my main data-gathering tool, the tool that will hopefully provide me with the vast majority of my data, so I'm a little anxious about it. Perfect for lab group feedback!

I thought pretty carefully about the structure I wanted to use. It would have been quite easy to present the games, the theory I'm looking at, and then asked them to look at the survey and lead into a discussion. I didn't do that because I felt knowing what I was looking for would affect the way they read the questionnaire. Instead I presented a little bit on three games I'm going to be looking at, then I asked them to read the questions. When the discussion around that got to the point where I felt answering the questions needed it, I went back to my slides and introduced more specifically the differences in the games (and introduced the fourth - a variant on the online game we're writing), and how I expect those differences to influence the team cohesion amongst the players.

Picking the point to go back to the theory was a little tricky, but I think it was worth doing it that way. I got some very useful feedback, some around the use of specific words, but also about thinking about who will be potentially filling out the survey. It may be that a reasonably high percentage may not have English as a first language, so some of the subtleties of the statements I've put together may be lost. That's a point that I (in my privileged English-speaking way) hadn't considered! There were a couple of contentious statements, but actually only the ones that I was already not particularly happy with, so that's not so bad. 

The other thing I've taken from the experience is that I'm reasonably confident of my background theory. I feel I can talk about it coherently, and pull the reading I've done into a shape that makes sense of what I'm looking for and at. While the lab group is a reasonably safe environment to practice in, the flip side of that is that these are my closest colleagues. If I look foolish in front of them, I still have to see them regularly for the next two years. Plenty of people have said it's actually the audience they get most nervous about - not just my lab group (who are all perfectly nice, polite, interesting and interested people) but close colleagues in general. So coming away feeling more confident was a definite plus. 

I actually feel like that was quite an important step. Now, back to that questionnaire!