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eLearning Learning
November 9, 2023

Educating the Next Generation of Interactive Developers

Students at Harrisburg University (HU) are learning how to evaluate and leverage technology to create engaging experiences. Charles Palmer, Executive Director, Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies and Program Chair and Associate Professor, Interactive Media shares how the lessons learned at the University can be applied to new approaches in eLearning development.



Show Notes:
HU's Charles Palmer offered a thoughtful approach to using technologies to improve the learning experience including these takeaways:

  • Engaging learners in active learning experiences and practical application can be more effective than traditional lectures. 
  • Virtual reality can enhance the learning experience and prepare learners for success on the job. Creating safe environments for learners to fail and learn from their mistakes is crucial.
  • The integration of generative AI into training can make eLearning development more efficient, allowing for more creative approaches such as gamification. 
  • AI tools can be valuable in various aspects of teaching and learning, from generating rubrics to enhancing reading assignments and simulating coaching scenarios.

Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.


Susan Cort: [00:00:00] Virtual reality can help enhance the learning experience and set learners up for great success on the job. It's also one of the technologies college students are learning how to apply to the training industry. 

Charles Palmer: But our learners do well when they are engaged in the act of learning, or acquiring new knowledge, or acquiring new skills. Instead of the lecture, let's put them in situations where they get to use what they've learned and see the Let's give them a safe environment where they can fail and fail and fail until they succeed.

Susan Cort: That's Charles Palmer with Harrisburg University, Professor of Interactive Media and an innovator using technology to educate learners. Hear how he's using tech to teach and how you can apply it to your learning experiences. Next on Powered by Learning. 

Announcer: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d’Vinci Interactive. d’Vinci's approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and [00:01:00] expertise. We use proven strategies and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners to improve quality and boost performance.

Announcer: Learn more at dvinci.com. 

Susan Cort: With us today is Charles Palmer, Executive Director, Center for Advanced Entertainment and Learning Technologies, and Program Chair and Associate Professor, Interactive Media at Harrisburg University. Hi, Charles. Great to see you again. 

Luke Kempski: Yeah, welcome, Charles.

Charles Palmer: Thank you. It's, uh, been a long time since we've gotten together, but I absolutely love talking about these topics.

Susan Cort: We know that. We want to start off by sharing with our audience a little bit about your background and your role at HU. 

Charles Palmer: Thank you. Sure. I've been here at the university, uh, this is year 15. Prior to that, I was at Carnegie Mellon for another 20ish years or so. My journey through this space has been varied from the production side to the classroom side to policymaking. And now I'm at HU running a center, I work through a couple of different [00:02:00] programs, and surprisingly, I'm also a PhD candidate in data science. That's so 

Luke Kempski: Awesome. And congratulations on 15 years at HU. That's pretty amazing. I know you've really been a pioneer with the programs that you have there, you know, with eSports and with gamification and all the interactive media things that you're doing.It's really kind of an entrepreneurial approach that you take there. Can you talk a little bit about what makes it HU different and more agile in your approach? Especially when it comes to interactive media and learning technologies.

Charles Palmer: Sure. Our space, the interactive media space, is really fueled by the institution itself. And the institution is fueled by its mission, and that is to serve underserved populations in science and technology, engineering and mathematics. And so the innovative part of what we do is because our audience is different than the typical learner audience. And so we try hard at Experimentation, you know, figuring out what's going to work for a particular audience, instead of sitting back and saying, well, we've always done [00:03:00] it this way, so we'll continue to do it that way.Instead, we look at what are the needs of the situation, and we can adapt and mold ourselves in order to do that. 

Luke Kempski: Talk a little bit about that. Like, when you think about... Interactive media and how it continues to evolve, and your view on what do we even mean by interactive media today, and how important it is to create learning experiences, not just develop training.

Charles Palmer: Yeah, the important thing there is experience, and I'll be honest, that's, this term interactive media, we've sort of settled upon it, but I've never been happy with it. truly encapsulates what we do. Really, we are crafting experiences, and those experiences will need media and it does need to be engaged in some fashion. But our learners do well when they are engaged in the act of learning or acquiring new knowledge or acquiring new skills. And so, instead of the lecture, let's put them in situations where they get to use what they've learned and see the application of it. [00:04:00] Let's give them a safe environment where they can fail. And fail and fail until they succeed. You know, we think of academia as the sandbox and at HU, that's really a strong approach to what we do. It is applied knowledge is what we do mostly. Yeah. And, 

Luke Kempski: You talk about those providing that environment. Maybe you could talk a little bit about virtual reality and how you think about that these days, especially in, in how you were just talking about, um, the opportunity to, to learn and experience, uh, outside of maybe a more dangerous or hostile environment.

Charles Palmer: Yeah, um, so VR is fantastic. Um, I've been associated with VR for a long time, but I'm not a cheerleader of VR. Because I've seen areas and spaces where it fails. The person who is in the headset is in most cases cut off from the outside world. And that can be unsafe in some situations. We've heard of people harming themselves.We've heard of women especially being assaulted while they had a headset on. So there are particular [00:05:00] cases and places where VR works well. That learner who's sitting alone in an isolated space and they want to practice their skill set. I found VR to be really great for that, where I can try and try and try again. Again, in a safe environment that I just click a switch and it resets the scenario for whatever it is. I've also seen it be great for prior to the learning. Uh, there's a company... Uh, I believe Texas Mutual commissioned a product called Safety in a Box for individuals that were looking to be on, uh, work on a construction site, and this was Safety in a Box.It was targeted at safety, but before even entering a job site or even starting the application process, You can download this VR experience to your phone, throw it in a cardboard holder, hold it up to your face, and see what it's like, or see what concerns you might have about entering a job site. I'll tell you, I did this years ago, and there are four things I would never do.I'll never walk on a job site without a hard hat. [00:06:00] I'll never be in a high place without being strapped in. I'll never be in a cherry picker without checking clearance overhead. And I'll never be in a hole that is deeper than six feet that don't have a retaining wall. And the reason that's so important is because I died in each one of those scenarios. And so in VR, I put myself into this environment. It's, our bodies have physical reactions. When our eyes and our ears are presented with a particular type of information, and we can cognitively assess that information. So I think VR is very valuable for those. I don't think it's as strong for, this is the tool that I'm going to get all my learning from.I think it's really the bookends of introducing the topic matter, or applying the topic matter through process, or through practice, where it really works well. 

Luke Kempski: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. It shows how much it's stuck with you. Those four points still come rattling out. Yes, they 

Susan Cort: do. I still remember when I crashed a plane and landed on its side in a simulator.So that stuck with me for all these years, too. And I [00:07:00] will never fly a plane, of course. 

Charles Palmer: But think about us humans. You know, we learn from stubbing our toe. We learn from making those mistakes, and that's important to the learning process. 

Luke Kempski: And now with, um, with generative AI coming along and making content.Creation may be a little more efficient or experience design more efficient. Do you think that'll have an impact on how VR might be adopted more for those use cases that you're talking about before, and then kind of simulating, uh, on the job situations that might help give the learner some practice opportunities before they're in a more hostile environment or the real environment?

Charles Palmer: Yeah, without giving too much away, I definitely think there are ways where we're going to see AI hooks into VR. We're starting to see a lot of tools that will do prompt to 3D generated content and prompt to video. So as those get integrated into the VR experience... We will now see something that is much more customized and the scripting of it, not [00:08:00] the, not the word scripting, but the idea of scripting out an experience can be generated on the fly based on the needs of the learner. If that can happen in VR and we can bring about catastrophic situations or just small failures in VR in real time, that will be very valuable, I think, in that space. 

Luke Kempski: Yeah, no, one of the experiences we were playing around with here is called Virtual Speaker, uh, actually simulates environment. So it's a VR application, learning application, where you experience speaking to different groups inside VR. So when you think about terrifying things and it, but it is, it's a great way to practice. And it's one of those, you know, that's where, where it's best when it's more tutorial like, it's not so good.

Charles Palmer: Yeah. I saw one where, just like you were saying, you're at a podium, you've got little, uh, 3x5 cards as your cues and you're reading them off and there's a, a shadowed environment that you're speaking in. And there's murmuring and heckling. Yeah. In that space. And that's just, okay, let's [00:09:00] take this to the next level. This could be very interesting. 

Luke Kempski: Kind of like being a college professor, right? 

Charles Palmer: Ah, yeah. We're used to it by now. 

Susan Cort: You don't get heckled, Charles. 

Charles Palmer: Oh, I may be the prime source of heckling in my classrooms.


Luke Kempski: I know Another thing that you've been at the forefront of is interactive game design and gamification. How do you think about that or how do you talk to your students about that in terms of creating learning experiences, for instance?

Charles Palmer: I'll be honest. My students are less about generating learning experiences and more about what is the production needed for those learning assets to be created. My students aren't the learning specialists. My students are normally the individuals that work with a learning specialist. Being in the classroom and the students understand, or help them understand, that there's a task that needs to be created and they need to make sure they bring about all their skills in order to do that.Whether it's for the learning specialist or for the financial advisor or for the design team that needs some other things done. Gamification fits into a number of [00:10:00] areas. I use gamification in our classrooms, a number of our faculty do. We talk to our students about gamification, but mostly through the lens of motivation. Right, what is it going to take to motivate an individual to engage with or to change a behavior in something that is designed to be made change? If I have a fifth grader, how do I create an experience where they're going to practice their math skills in a way that They will come back to it again and again and again.Uh, it's hard, I think, for an educational institution to say, Hey, we're going to gamify across all of these classes, or we're going to put this policy in place that applies to every student. And that's tough, right? We need to think of the educator, we need to think of the actual material to be taught, and how do we create an experience solely for those students to think gamification is happening in a lot of different places. I think it might not get the elevated conversations that take place because [00:11:00] it's very personal and I know myself, I just do it and don't think about reporting about it or writing about it. It's just part of my toolkit of tasks that I undertake. 

Luke Kempski: And I think that's how we should look at it from an instructional design standpoint that, you know, we're not designing a game. We might use gamification to teach certain parts or to give practice opportunities for certain parts of the learning that we're trying to accomplish. 

Susan Cort: Charles, many of your students are going to go on to create gamified experiences and content that will really help shape some interactive learning experiences. How do you guide them now to integrate generative AI into their approach so that they're keeping that in mind as they're moving forward? 

Charles Palmer: There are a couple of different ways we're doing this. I don't believe that we should say, here, students, in your third year, second semester, you're going to take your generative AI course. I think the better solution is to say, in every course, there's some component where you're learning some aspect of [00:12:00] getting a tool to work better, regardless of what that tool is. And so, if I think about our own students, this is something we're practicing with right now, is how do you introduce it, how do you scaffold usage of it, and how do you make sure they're using it ethically?And that doesn't happen in one place, that happens in multiple places. So, for introducing our students, what we've done in the last couple of years is we've created a workshop series, which, and we've gamified it to a degree, now that I think about it, where we need to motivate the students to attend, A workshop.We normally offer five to six in a given semester, and the students all have some core course that they're taking, and that course requires them to take two, or go and visit two workshops. So that's the gamification part of it, right? We've sort of incentivized them to go because they get credit for it in one of these other core courses, but it is outside of the classroom environment. Um, one of those workshops is a Gen AI workshop, where we show students Here's the tool that you've been hearing so much about, here are some use cases, [00:13:00] hey, let's practice along, follow along with me, not in a classroom, but just a group of peers or a cohort of people sitting together talking about this great new tool.And we use that for a number of things, we use it for 3D printing, we use it when we have a guest speaker to bring in that wants to talk about something that is aligned with our area of study, but might not be specific to a particular class. And that workshop series seems to be working. Uh, my metric for success, though, is...How many students attend more than two, right? They're required to attend two, but they can go to all six if they want. And so that's where I keep my eyes on and seeing, well, what's really successful with the students? What are they going to on their own accord? And are we doing a good job with presenting information to the students?

Susan Cort: And are they excited? Do they come back for more than two?

Charles Palmer: They do. It's a little more than a third that are coming to multiple. And then right at a third are going to almost all of them in a semester. That's great. 

Luke Kempski: I think it's kind of interesting that it must be new students who are starting [00:14:00] out with generative AI as a partner in their early learning. So they're going to be the generative AI natives, right? Um, they'll never, they won't know a way before that. How do you think that might impact their careers? And for those of us in the field, what should we be doing to kind of prepare to collaborate with these AI natives? 

Charles Palmer: Wow. That's great. I have colleagues that looked as AI started popping up and saying, Oh my God, the sky is falling. This is going to be horrendous. And I love talking to them and telling them, do you remember late 70s when pocket calculators came into the classroom and teachers freaked out because they said kids weren't learning math? We're at the same point. This is a tool that given proper instruction, the tool will allow the students to actually learn deeper and further than they would without the tool itself. I often, when I'm talking to faculty, will say, well, their AI instruction or their AI friend or their AI bot is really just a researcher on the side or a collaborator that can help in the [00:15:00] process. My deep desire, my hope right now, is that the students that we're training to use these tools can free up their mind about some of the main mundane parts of the job and start becoming more creative and thinking further out of field because they're getting these sort of quick answers from the tool itself. Or I use AI in my PhD work as my research assistant, you know, and I'm learning about how to craft better questions to get the right types of responses from my AI assistant. And I think that's what we're going to see with these students. And I think that's what. Employers of those students are going to start to appreciate of bringing in these skill sets to new ways of developing content, new ways of engaging with audiences, and also new ways of assessing whether or not it was successful.

Luke Kempski: Yeah, and I think, uh, there seems to be an ongoing kind of insatiable need for ongoing learning, right? Yeah. And the ability to create at a higher scale. engaging learning [00:16:00] experiences can, there'll just be more and more demand and more opportunities for all of us involved in it. 

Charles Palmer: Yeah. I think our students, uh, that's a really great point because I'm not teaching my students to use AI.I'm teaching my students to evaluate a tool and figure out how that tool can be applied to their particular problems that they have at hand. And so today it might be chat GPT, GPT 4. Tomorrow it might be something else on the horizon. And they just need to figure out, okay, here's this new thing. Let me learn how to learn how it works. Let me see if there's something in there that works towards my needs. And let's see if I can get that into production in an efficient manner. 

Luke Kempski: Yeah, excellent. I know another big interest of yours, both academic and from an applied research standpoint, has been data. The audience for Powered by Learning is very much learning and development leaders and creators of interactive learning experiences and other types of learning experiences. Any advice on where they should focus when it comes to measurement and data? 

Charles Palmer: The university [00:17:00] in the last, I'll say, eight years has made a really hard push towards assessment. And assessment can't happen without the data collection. And we had a very valuable lesson early on where we set out and said, we had a director of assessment who sort of worked with some other individuals and laid out what data we should be collecting, and we attempted to do that and failed miserably.The lesson learned was that we were trying to capture too much data without a real understanding of how we would utilize that data. Since then, when we undertake new projects, or when we're thinking about new tasks, or new things that we might have to report on later on, we minimize. We just need to start collecting data. And then you will improve the data collection, you'll improve, you'll have a better understanding of the data that you have, and be able to answer some of the questions that, okay, well, what can't we do, or what other data sets do we need to collect in this process? Personally, I found that extremely rewarding because I found that my [00:18:00] methodologies around the collection of data have evolved over time. And once you start the process in building a system, especially if it's something that's automated where it's just going ahead and collecting your data and you come back and look at it later on for reporting or analysis, you're then just building these small little chunks and over time you start ending up with this broad sense of the data itself. So my advice to others is just start thinking about small pieces of data that you can collect, store, and then start using that data to answer questions. That will open up your eyes to, oh, well, if we just added this other piece of data, that might be yours, or it might be secondary data that you might be able to find in some other sources. You will then build this understanding of processes, your institution, the tasks that you have to accomplish, but most importantly, the gaps that you might have. 

Luke Kempski: Exactly. Those are the areas of improvement and, you know, for what, for planning what's next based on what you're learning from the data. That's great.Tell us about what you're working on now, Charles. Uh, what are you most [00:19:00] excited about related to your academic program, anything around learning technologies? 

Susan Cort: That could be a two-hour answer. 

Charles Palmer: I was, my brain just exploded. I'm like, wow. Yeah, I'll talk about a couple of things. One is, uh, how I'm using, how I've personalized AI.

I use ChatGPT. Every day, if not every day, every other day, definitely, in both my research work, but also in my teaching. And I've used it in a couple of interesting ways that I think have been rewarding for me, but I think have been appreciated by my students. And one is using AI to build rubrics. Has been very interesting.Handing it some bit of data or some information and say, this is what the students are reading right now. Um, let's build a rubric for an assignment that they might have. Okay. Um, another one is I am teaching a fan engagement course and I loaded into ChatGPT. Um, hey, here's the course I'm taking, I'm teaching.Here are the learning outcomes I've identified. And here are some of the assignments that I'm [00:20:00] work, that they're working on. What am I missing? And it came back with a great list of some things that had direct ties into the fan engagement course. One of those, and I, this is where I did my duh moment, was gamification.I had created this entire course and didn't include gamification in it at all. And it greatly enhanced the quality of that course because now I was making ties that I knew and understood, but I personally hadn't made the connections. That was extremely valuable. And then a third in sort of that particular space was this idea of, we all give reading assignments to students. Actually, sorry, I have two more, uh, reading assignments to students. And so what I've started doing is loading those reading assignments into Chat PDF. Which is a PDF reader, and it's pretty much trained on the document that you give it. And I've loaded that in, and it says, hey, this is the information, uh, summarize it, so I get a little summary that I can share with the students before they actually start reading the material, and that helps them sort of whet their appetite for the [00:21:00] content.But then I'll ask it something like, generate 20 reference questions from this document. And then I sort those, and then I'll present those to the students as saying, answer five. And instead of the students needing to answer all of the questions, their responses are a lot more targeted. They're answering the questions that related to the things they got out of the particular argument.They're really vested in this. They've chosen this question, and they feel a little bit more autonomy. And on my side, I've noticed that their writing is a little bit more targeted and better in that case. And all those are great. And then the last thing I do want to mention, and this is a little more dangerous, I think, for some people to do, as I was scaffolding how to use ChatGPT or generative AI for a class, I actually got asked to guest speak in one of our digital marketing classes.And I came in and I said to the students, hey, here's the topic we're going to discuss. They're like, okay, that's great. I opened up TomeAI, which is a presentation AI tool. I typed in the response question. I had it [00:22:00] generate the slides and then I lectured from that. So the students got a chance to see where the AI failed and how my knowledge of the material was able to add to that experience. Um, I've done it a couple of times since then, but that first time it was a little frightening. But at the same time, the students learn so much about understanding, oh, here's a tool. Let's see how to use that tool. You know, here's someone who's using it ethically, in this particular case, because we're using a classroom situation. Uh, there were a couple of things in there that we needed to go and find more information on, so we popped over to the chat TPT. Uh, one of the tips that I always tell the students to do is when we're Asking questions about, especially about information that we don't have a strong knowledge about. I always ask ChatGPT to provide reliable inline citations and sources.I found, especially in ChatGPT 4, when I phrase it that way, The tool doesn't hallucinate or I don't get weird, uh, sort of [00:23:00] offshoot of some of the responses. I get real responses back. It doesn't want to get called out. It does not want to get called out. And, and when it does, I will say it's not always true. And sometimes I'll just, you know, take the title and throw it into Google Scholar, but I've noticed that it'll do things such as the author of this article is John Smith. You know, I'm like, hmm, is it? Right? And look those up. So I walk the talk. I make sure that our students see that these are tools. They aren't perfect, but here are some ways of using them and how we can work.

Charles Palmer: And you were asking me other things that are on the horizon. So those are some of the things that we've been doing so far. On the horizon, I'm working on three different simulators that are all AI. Um, in ChatGPT, I've been able, and this is for our eSports program, we've been able to train a tool to act as a simulation. So I feed it a bunch of information, this is for eSports coaching, give it some parameters. And then have it [00:24:00] take a user through an engagement of working with a player, coaching a player. And so it'll ask questions and give you, um, A, B, C, D responses. You make a choice. It then figures out a follow up question or how the player would respond to that answer that you gave.And then lastly, it will come back at the end and say, you chose this option. This is why this other, you know, you chose B. C is the better option for these purposes. I think simulators like that could be very amazing in all industries. Where someone can sit down at their own and work through this, uh, scenario engine generator, essentially, without some instruction or designer need to figure out the entire tree structure of what needs to be taught or what needs to be produced for that learner in every single branch of the tree. Now we can just train a large language learning model on the correct answers and responses [00:25:00] and have it generate an experience for that learner. 

Luke Kempski: Yeah, you end up with a performance coach.

Charles Palmer: Correct. That I could maybe ask anytime. One of the tools is training someone for a job in local government, a job that might not require a bachelor's degree to get into.We're seeing a lot of those starting to pop up. How do you prepare someone for a profession in an organization such as a government that that may not have ever been in that space. So we can build them a coach so that they can go ahead and be prepared and be ready. And then maybe also use that coach their entire first year on the job.

Susan Cort: Well, your students are certainly going to be prepared and ready with your knowledge and also your incredible passion, Charles. We can't thank you enough for joining us today. And I know the three of us talk often, but we definitely need to come back and have you on to just. Learn more about what you're doing with technology and experiences that could enhance the learner's journey. So thank you for taking the time to talk with us. 

Charles Palmer: Not a problem. I'm always happy to brag about our students. Great talking to you, Charles. You as well. Thank you.[00:26:00] 

Susan Cort: Luke, Charles and his students are certainly on the cutting edge, using technology to improve experiences. What are your takeaways of listeners can apply what they're doing at HU to their l and d programs? 

Luke Kempski: Yeah. He really has a healthy approach when it comes to technologies that can be used in creating learning experiences.And you know, that could be a model for all of us in the learning and development world. He's skeptical. He doesn't get so caught up in a technology as being like a panacea for all types of training and other applications. Mm-Hmm. . But he does look for a place for it, he experiments with it, and tries to find ways to pilot and adopt technologies with a focus on value and return on investment. He's also really conscious about ethics and safety, and you know, that's really important, and he talks about it when it comes to VR You know, it really gives me confidence to know that professors like Charles are educating the students that can be our next learning experience designer. 

Susan Cort: Absolutely. It also makes me want to go back to [00:27:00] school and take one of Charles's classes.

Luke Kempski: Yes. Me too. 

Susan Cort: Well, thanks, Luke. And special thanks to Charles Palmer of Harrisburg University. If you have an idea for a topic or guest, please reach out to us at PoweredbyLearning@dvinci.com. And don't forget, you can subscribe to Powered by Learning wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Luke Kempski

By Luke Kempski, CEO

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