Martin Oliver

Dr Martin Oliver

Biographical note
Martin is a Reader in the Faculty of Culture and Pedagogy at the Institute of Education. His research interests include the impact of new technology on roles and practices within Higher Education (including how this changes what students learn and do), evaluating ICT use and the development of theory and methodologies in the field of e-learning. His recent work has involved studying learning in virtual worlds and from playing digital games.

He is an editor of the journal Learning, Media and Technology, a past editor of ALT-J: research in learning technology, and serves on the editorial boards of ALT-J, Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning and Innovations in Education & Teaching International

Martin has also guest edited special issues of Educational Technology and Society, Quality Assurance in Education and Reflecting Education, and is currently dabbling with podcasting (

Martin teaches on the MA in ICT in Education, and is currently seconded to the UK’s Higher Education Academy, where he works as part of the team developing the EvidenceNet service, which aims to promote evidence-informed practice in learning and teaching in Higher Education.

Presentation Abstract
"Everything I need to know I learnt from World of Warcraft": why we might need to start asking better questions about games, simulations and virtual worlds

Like many areas of educational technology research, a lot of the work that focuses on games, simulations and virtual worlds consists of case studies that demonstrate proof of concept, enthusiastic position pieces or success stories. All of this is important: we need to know what sort of things we can use these technologies to do, so as to build a broader repertoire of teaching practices. However, this kind of focus neglects a range of other questions and issues that may prove more important in the longer term.

For example, educational research about games typically emphasises the way that playing motivates players; it ignores how successful games (such as massively multiplayer online games) often feel like work, and it also glosses over the way that bringing a game inside the curriculum changes the way that 'players' relate to it. There are also inconsistencies in the way games are thought about: the idea that they cause violence is often criticised as over-simplistic, yet the idea that they cause learning isn't. In virtual worlds, opportunities to create new identities is widespread, but questions about how this relates to our embodied relationships are rarely asked. In simulations, 'realism' is celebrated - but this means that simulations will always be second best to actual experiences, and it ignores how groups can disagree about whether something is realistic or not. Across this work, the complexity of learning and teaching seems hidden by the desire to promote the value of these technologies.

This talk will offer some examples of work that, in small ways, try to engage with these kinds of issue. Different priorities will be suggested, which invite a new kind of engagement with research and practice in this area.