Music Club

The Music Club has been launched in 2016. The goal is to enlist participants from around the globe to learn and rehearse basic through advanced multimedia skills to share resources via digital technology. Online courses and activities will be conducted through and To date I have had over 7500 international enrolments in earlier courses such as Gamification, Personal Branding, and a range of psychology topics.

I conservatively hope for many times that figure for music-based courses. There are literally millions of guitars and ukuleles sitting in closets around the world, unplayed for lack of a simple learning system. My system evolved over many decades working in hospitals and educational institutions. It is logically the easiest-possible ‘learn to play’ system as it starts with 1-finger and even no-finger chords. What makes it revolutionary is that it re-writes the music to fit the player. The music makes the simple chords ‘fit in’ so there is no fear of playing a sour note.

Locally we have launched live sessions in Coffs Harbour through the Arts Council. We meet four times a month in a scenic park by a creek right in the middle of the CBD.

Open Forum Series: Evidence-based Mental Health

I’ve taken on Coordination of the Coffs Harbour Collaborative Mental Health Professionals’ Network. The established Counselling Services Inc. and Coffs Branch of the Australian Psychological Society will merge some of their meetings to make it an open forum. I am also Vice-President of the Medical Consumers Association and will ensure that the consumer perspective is at the very least not mis-represented.

The overall topic will be Evidence-based Mental Health. Presentations will consist of speakers and audio-visual materials to stimulate and inform discussion.

This is an important topic from any perspective. Medicine itself is already regarded by some authorities as in itself among the leading direct causes of death in the Western World. The dramatic rise in classification of millions of persons into ‘mental illness’ categories starting in childhood, has a big impact on their future participation in the workforce:

As Dr Allen J Frances put it: “We have a medical system that couldn’t’ve been conceived more brilliantly by an enemy of the United States. Our medical industrial complex is a brilliant conception if you wanted to destroy our economy and it’s working exactly to do that.”

This Forum begins with these issues as a starting point and as Audio/Visual triggers for discussion, with templates and guidelines to evaluate the issues from the perspectives of the scientific method and its clinical, economic, sociological and historical variants.

The Forum will be held in the CBD Coffs Harbour. Current MHPN members will be contacted by email with venue details. Those wishing to register with MHPN can contact them at





How to Write a Romance Novel

Margaret and I are proud to accounce our collaboration on the first of our multimedia OpenLearning courses:

Course Description

Romance is one of the fastest-growing sectors of publishing, in both traditional books and e-versions. The biggest-selling book of all time, 50 Shades of Gray, is now among them. Regular readers worldwide consume these books like magazines so there is constant demand. Romance has expanded to mix with other genres such as crime, sci-fi, horror so that there is ample scope for creative writing.

This course provides a strategic approach to getting your romance novel published. As you do the activities you are building your marketing plan and learning how to write what the readers are seeking and, importantly, what the key publishers will be likely to accept.

Experience from judging writing contests, publishers’ guidelines and feedback, and readers’ reviews is synthesised for you so that you can save countless hours fine-tuning to increase the chances of your creative efforts being published.

Course Presenter

Margaret Penhall-Jones

Hi – As a romance writing contest judge I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad, and the misguided. I want to share with you what took me many years of study and writing. I can save you countless hours and disappointment by applying strategy. I’ve worked in the government, legal and private sectors, writing across the full range from government policy documents to short stories. I’ve seen how important it is to tailor your creative efforts to what your audience wants.  As a counsellor and psychotherapist I’ve seen the full spectrum of human drama so am familiar with the new directions romance writing is taking as it mixes with contemporary social concerns.

The course will launch in 2015 through Cost for this course will be $30Aus.

National Psychology Week Events

Neuropsychology for Forensic Psychologists

This free brief online self-study course is being hosted by OpenLearning for the NSW Branch of the APS Forensic College.

The international firm, Accredible, has offered its documentation services for those wishing to use the resource for self-study PD. Details are onsite.

The course will be expanded during 2015 and soundtracks for the full version are available at

Psychology in a Digital Age

A live talk is scheduled for National Psychology Week at the Deep Sea Fisherman’s Club in Coffs Harbour Jetty for Rotary. Those wishing to attend should contact the Club to add numbers for catering purposes.

One Sky May 2014

On the 9th of May 2014, people from across the globe will be  looking up and appreciating one of the things we all share: our sky. Astronomers from around the world will be setting up telescopes absolutely free for anybody who wants to look.


As part of this I’m here posting some classroom activities that can be used in daylight as prelude or follow up to the event. I refer also to my earlier podcasts and movies on the topic:

Benjamin, T. (2009b) The Best Views of the Universe are from our Backyards. Cloudy Nights.

Benjamin, T. (2010e) It’s what you can’t see that counts. Cloudy Nights.

Make a Star Map: Group or Class Exercize


Paper version:

  • sheets of paper – black and white;
  • coloured pencils, crayons, pens
  • toothbrush & toothpaste

Digital version:

  • Paint and draw programmes (MsPaint, Powerpoint or equivalent)


  1. Get photos of  constellations in the night sky from the Web or a book
  2. Read about them and each player select one constellation that has a variety of objects (for example Scorpio has a globular cluster and several open clusters)
  3. Draw on the white sheet the stars of the constellation then the clusters according to map symbols
  4. Exchange the map within pairs with each partner
  5. Partner reads the map,
  6. works out which constellation is depicted
  7. paint white spatter on black with toothbrush to show what it would look like in the night sky
  8. exchange spatter maps back to partner
  9. compare symbol map with spatter map
  10. compare maps with photo images and professionally-made maps of these constellations

Astronomy Quiz Item Pool

(starting from simplest to easiest – create your quiz from these)

Why does the Moon have phases?

Observe the Moon during daylight. Look at the angle of light & shadow. What does that tell you about the relative distance from Earth to the Moon and the Sun?

What is an eclipse?

What is the Zodiac?

What is the Ecliptic? (OK to cut & paste your answer)

What does the Zodiac/Ecliptic have to do with the night sky?

Refer to the following Zodiac Sun Sign Table

  •  Aries: March 21 – April 19
  • Taurus: April 20 – May 20
  • Gemini: May 21 – June 20
  • Cancer: June 21 – July 22
  • Leo: July 23 – August 22
  • Virgo: August 23 – September 22
  • Libra: September 23 – October 22
  • Scorpio: October 23 – November 21
  • Sagittarius: November 22 – December 21
  • Capricorn: December 22 – January 19
  • Aquarius: January 20 – February 18
  • Pisces: February 19 – March 20

Pick a particular day of the year.

What Zodiac ‘star sign’ corresponds to that date?.

On that date chosen would you be able to see that Zodiac sign?

What does all this actually mean in astronomical terms? –ie- what does it tell you about the positions of the Earth, Sun etc  on that date.?

How might remembering your personal birthday ‘star sign’ help you find astronomical objects in the sky?

How would a pair of objects in the evening sky  help you locate the Zodiac/Ecliptic?

What are some possible pairs of objects in the evening sky that would help you locate the Zodiac/Ecliptic?

Why is the Zodiac/Ecliptic a curved rather than straight line in the sky?

From the information in the Zodiac table derive the following:

A Zodiac constellation appearing centre sky around 9PM on May 30?

A Zodiac constellation appearing centre sky around 9PM on October 30?

How can you tell whether a bright object is a star or a planet?

Describe what each of these looks like in the night sky:

  •  Mercury
  • Venus
  • Mars
  • Jupiter
  • Saturn

The next set of questions was not answered by humans until the 20th Century

What is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way is easy to spot on a clear moonless night in the country but how might you recognise it from a lit up area in a city or suburb?

Besides the Milky Way what other neighbour objects in the Local Group can be seen from Earth with the eye or binoculars?

“We on Earth have some of the best views of the Universe” – discuss in terms of the following:

  • How would moving closer to the centre of the Milky Way affect our view?
  • What are some types of spectacular objects within the Milky Way?
  • How would moving closer to spectacular objects within the Milky Way affect our view?
  • How would moving to intergalactic space Milky Way affect our view?

What is meant by the term ‘deep sky objects’?

Besides stars and planets what sorts of astronomical objects might be seen with a pair of binoculars?

What is meant by the term ‘richest field telescope’ (RFT)?

What advantage might a RFT have over a ‘high-powered’ telescope?

What advantage might a ‘high-powered’ telescope have over a RFT?

What are some typical specifications of a richest field telescope?

What are some typical specifications of a high-power telescope?

What is a dobsonian?

What is meant by the term ‘exit pupil’?

What is a planisphere (commonly called ‘star wheel’)?

What is a torquetum?

What is an equatorial mount?

What is an altazimuth mount?

What is Right Ascension? Is it associated with longitude or latitude?

What is Declination? Is it associated with longitude or latitude?

What is a ‘deep sky object’?

What is an open cluster?

What is a globular cluster?

What is a nebula?

What is a dark lane?

Why is the view from a dark sky site in the country likely to be among the best possible in the entire Universe?



Free online Forensic Psychology Course

The course was launched as a live event in Sydney for National Psychology Week.

The international online course will launch on 3rd February 2014. For details see

It is also listed with the Australian Psychological Society

This is a general information course that follows on from my earlier courses on Gamification and Neuropsychotherapy. The Neuropsychotherapy course covers multimedia and is intended for teachers and therapists.  The Forensic course covers scientific method as applied to psychology in the forensic settings. It is a forum rather than a skills course.

The case material was obtained with permission from media sources and from persons who had taken their stories to the public domain. Warning – this is not suitable material for young children. These are genuine cases, widely described as ‘horror’ cases in the mental health sector.

As Vice-President of the Medical Consumers Association in Sydney and as a former government researcher into the mental health sector I became familiar with these public cases. The course target audience is professionals such as psychologists, lawyers, and insurance officers who deal with these issues as well as members of the general public who bear the consequences. It can also be relevant to science teachers as it addresses fundamental questions about scientific method.

The video modules of the course are live on YouTube. The full course is being finalised on OpenLearning. The course is free.

There is no certification for a course such as this as most nations and states have statutory regulation of professional accreditation. However, the course can be treated as any other textbook or video source. If instructors wish to use the materials in their courses it is fine with me as they bear all responsibility for accreditation. Any reproduction of the material would be subject to their local copyright laws.  Individuals wishing to cite open online courses of any kind on their CV should exercize caution as it is ‘self-study’.

Neuropsychotherapy Course

This is a multimedia skills course that follows on  from an earlier course on Gamification. The Neuropsychotherapy course fleshes out the principles with specific details of techniques and software. The target is to help teachers and therapists develop games and other digital activities. But, of course, anyone else could find these skills useful as it starts from the most basic audio-visual skills and works up to animated and interactive materials.

So activities in this Neuropsychotherapy course are presented without claims as being ‘treatments’. All educational and recreational activities have some treatment value in settings where the goal is general activation and engagement.

The course is in line with our e-Chautauqua concept. It is traditional adult education made more accessible with digital technology.


The Hero’s Journey in Gamification and Marketing

Marketing has seen applications of every sort of theory: psychology, operations research, anthropology – you name it.  A number of marketers have mentioned Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey as a way of framing advertising.

A hero’s journey has a number of common elements:

  1. The common day
  2. A distress call to adventure
  3. A victim
  4. The hero is singled out as ‘the one’ who can help
  5. There may be initial reluctance
  6. They enter a world of supernatural wonder
  7. Help from a wise mentor
  8. Gods or supernatural benevolent beings assist (or interfere)
  9. Tasks and battles
  10. Trials – the unanticipated; accident; treachery; treason
  11. Transformation of the hero
  12. Return with a Boon to share with others

The logical question arising is “Who is to be the hero?”.  Examination of the heroic role and the history of advertising reveals a number of good answers to this. Advertisers soon learned to promote the buyer as the hero. In this role the product becomes not the hero but the hero’s empowering tool.

The subject matter, such as math, science, product or service, can take many roles. It can be the hero, the hero’s empowering tool, or the prize/boon.

Even the dark side can be used. Sometimes a game portrays maths or science as the trial or obstacle to be overcome. Whether that is a good way to retain future interest in these subjects is a matter for caution.

Folklore gives us any number of precedents for these joint roles: Jason and the Golden Fleece, Percival and the Holy Grail, King Arthur and his sword Excalibur, Aladdin and the Genie, Thor and his Hammer. On TV we had The Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, Sergeant Preston and dog King, Captain Nelson and Jeannie, Knight Rider and his car KITT. There were often human ‘sidekicks’ like Tonto or Batman’s Robin. All these had a secondary but distinctive contribution empowering the hero.

In service industries the empowering tool will be a person. So the canny marketer is careful that the credibility and potency of the potential buyer is not threatened by contrast with the service provider as hero. Sometimes the buyers, particularly females, were cast in the Damsel in Distress role. But commonly the buyer is portrayed as the potential hero, like Aladdin, who only needs to rub the magic lamp to summon the empowering tool.  Indeed, many ads actually portrayed the Magic Lamp.

Taking the common example of a pest control product:

  1. the hero is a householder at home doing something routine in the kitchen or bathroom.
  2. The householder is called to action when the villain pest arrives
  3. it menaces the victims, commonly the children or those about to eat.
  4. The buyer realises action must be taken
  5. They don’t know where to turn
  6. A wonder product appears
  7. A scientist, elder or helpful neighbour explains and endorses the product
  8. The product is “brought to you by …[sponsor] ”  “from the makers of …”
  9. A battle ensues
  10. Progress reversed temporarily as a cat or child spills something
  11. The householder beams with pride as they have become a hero
  12. The meal is served, the kids go off to school and they all live happily ever after

Applications of this eventually became so formulaic as to become a cliché. As advertisers saw the coming demise of ‘the 30 second grab’ in the digital era of recorded broadcasts, fast forwards, mute buttons and eventually the Internet, there was often no time for such a sequence within the limited grabs now available.

The next cliché to appear attempted to harness game enthusiasm to hold attention and loyalty. This blending of advertising and gaming was termed “advergaming” and it became a repertoire staple.  Ad companies began placing advertisements within commercial video games and hired game developers to craft online game experiences based around their products.

The game industry became so big in its own right that it marketed physical merchandise like action figures and board games to promote its products.

For the purposes of my Gamification course, it is sufficient for the marketer to substitute the marketing roles they intend for games in place of the educational examples I’ve offered. The marketer’s goal is not so much ‘learning’ as ‘change’. The marketer has more in common with the therapist in harnessing gamification psychological processes to get the client, whether patient or buyer, to take some action, perhaps obtain something, and apply it. The therapist is very much in a service industry like financial planners, insurance agents, lawyers and many others. So their applications of Gamification and the hero’s journey will have similar role allocations.

The main thing to bear in mind is that it is not usually going to be the vendor, therapist or teacher who is to be portrayed and remembered as the hero. A brand recognition goal might be for the product to be remembered as co-hero , like Tonto or Jeannie or as an impersonal empowering  entity like the Magic Lamp.  Traditional sponsorship and public relations had the perceived ‘arms’ length’ independent role. In traditional analogy this benevolent benefactor role would correspond to the ‘god’ ‘supernatural being’ or ‘mentor’ role –ie- “brought to you by …. [sponsor]”.

In summary, roles and actions in the digital era may follow patterns in traditional market activity. Human nature responds to the same needs and the same practical products solutions will be needed to satisfy these needs. Gamification is but another application of these principles.

Free Online Gamification Course: Game Design in Education, Assessment, and Therapy

I’m offering a free online Gamification Course with a focus on game design in education, assessment, and therapy, thanks to the generous folks at I’ve had a long association with the University of New South Wales in Sydney and this extends the relationship into the 21st Century. This blog is a good place to offer a few words of explanation.  This course is very general and is targeted at teachers and therapists. It offers ways to create simple custom games. If the game design costs and time are kept to a minimum then a game version need only offer a benefit/cost advantage rather than lay any claim to increased learning.

While game design can be applied to advertising, such commercial applications are usually professional-level productions with detailed attention to user interface. Unlike teachers, advertisers would rarely have a need for a simple, rough, quick custom game. Classroom teachers can offer direct assistance if a game interface proves too difficult.

The psychological principles in my course are relevant to commercial applications but teachers have greater latitude because they can tweak the game design on the fly. The default position for teachers is to fall back on traditional methods which the research shows would stack up well against a game version. Advertisers may not have such luxury once they’ve locked into an expensive professionally-designed game promotion.

The course has 17 movies spread over 6 learning modules. It sounds like a lot but taken together these add up to less time than listening to a single traditional evening lecture. The real work is of course off-site. The learner is intended to go off and do their own research then apply what is learned to their own situation.

In such a role, the movies merely need to grab attention. Viewers can pause, re-wind, or go to the text on the page if they want details. The movies also serve to demonstrate techniques the learners can apply to their own teaching such as use of text to speech, avatars, Ken Burns Effect, transitions, multitracking … to name but a few.

Hence my movies deliberately use every cheesy effect I could muster. I don’t recommend learners do the same – quite the opposite. Throughout the movies I ask the learner whether it wouldn’t have been simpler, classier and more efficient to use text to convey the information rather than multimedia. The intent is sobriety rather than hypocrisy.

I use music, psychology and astronomy as my demo’s mainly to kill 2 birds with one stone. I do this in my spare time for free. I’m not a maths teacher. Therefore, while I would love to see maths teachers apply these methods to their teaching I’m not the guy to lead them. I can show them tools like the spreadsheets at  but only maths teachers would know which parts of their curriculum might benefit from gamification.

On the other hand, music is intrinsic to this course. It was the methods of music therapy such as OrffSchulwerk that introduced me to concepts of ‘restricted alternatives’.  Music ( has been an activity of mine since the days I sang weddings and frat parties in Detroit.

Astronomy taught me empowerment. Telescopes were my first purchases as a kid with paper route money. My homemade telescopes in a dark rural night show me intergalactic space as it really appears, rather than as time-exposed Hubble-o-rama.

Psychology was my university major and initial career. So these are activities I would do on my weekends anyway.  Between music, psychology and astronomy you have a pretty broad spectrum. So the demonstrations with these topics ought to be more than enough to give ideas for game and multimedia applications to other subjects and sectors.

Although I intended the ‘quest’ format to be obvious to any who do the demo’s such as The Lost Composer Mystery Quest, below is a simple summary of the sequence:

1. Call to Adventure Vignette: movie, slideshow, audio or text intro to the ‘mission’ to identify the ‘lost’ component (lost city, lost song, lost hero, lost equation, lost artwork … whatever)

2. Clue #1: quite difficult and peripherally related to subject -ie- astronomy clues to a music quest or vice-versa; cryptic crosswords, indirect movie or audio clues

3. Clues #2 #3 etc. increasingly more direct and easier clues: crosswords, puzzles, shoot-em-up interactive gamelets etc that give further clues as rewards

4. Final Clues dead giveaway clues allowing all participants to catch up

5. Finale task: participants prepare their project for submission, based on their identification of the ‘lost’ item and information gained in the search.

6. Presentation of finale task: their own original video or live show. this could be a diorama of the lost city, a spreadsheet of the equation, bringing a character to life with animation, recording their version of a song … etc

7. Total points: weighted sums for the first sets of clues (higher weights for getting it early) and scores for the quality, originality of their project presentation. If submitted to YouTube or social media scores can be given for ‘likes’ and ‘hits’.

8. Prize or Recognition.


21st Century Skills

Preparing a movie version of a forthcoming talk got me thinking. Some of the footage I have that I can use safely in an educational setting is denied publication on the Web. Some was obtained under Freedom of Information. Australia has the highest level of defamation litigation in the world so the material I put up to my TomComAu YouTube channel will sometimes be a much less punchy version, limited to what I can get permission to reproduce.

Even with all these limitations it is amazing to be able to host my own international network. The software available today from iClone, MovieStorm, and Digital Juice, to name a few, runs comfortably on today’s generation of desktop machine. I purposely use low-res avatars so that I can turn out information quickly. The theory of ‘The Uncanny Valley’ suggests that there will be no great advantage to higher-bandwidth animation. The more realistic the avatars the more they become zombies. So the avatars I use look pretty cheesy if you’ve just watched a recent movie or TV ad but then those mega-productions have credit rolls that go on longer than the totality of most YouTube movies.

So content is king. If the message is strong and you have news that others have ignored or supressed you are entitled to call yourself ‘an international multimedia network ’. Even if you only have 3 followers they might well be influential followers. And local broadcast mostly still only reaches local communities.

It got me thinking whether running your own international multimedia network will come to be seen as a ’21st Century skill’ or will be a dead end. It takes a lot more time to make a movie. Just turning this post into a slide show with voice-over, at the very simplest end of the spectrum, would take far far longer than typing it.

But there are some big time-savers in the movie version:

  1. a documentary can deliver information in an easy format. The viewer can do something (like ironing a shirt) at the same time.
  2. the video delivers over & over, 24/7. It can be re-wound, paused and saved.
  3. live lectures cost money. Even free ones require a venue, admin & promotion

It is foreseeable that the machinima companies could produce canned studios of such quality that merely typing in a theme like this post could auto-save into a talk-show format with digital avatars but I haven’t seen them aiming in that direction as they seem to find more market in kick-butt arcade game sorts of features.

It made me reflect on other techno dead ends. The autogyro was built in the 1920s. It is still in use by military and law enforcement agencies. But given its reliability, extreme low cost, short take off and landing, and safety it seems surprising we don’t see more of them. I’ve only seen one in a museum. The same goes for hydrogen balloons with their great lift. The Hindenberg disaster ended the airship era but they are still used for scientific and weather balloons. I’m surprised tethered versions aren’t used with cabling as ‘sky crane’ devices to position not-too-heavy things from the air, including cameras and sensors.

Another great technology is biofeedback. As a psychologist I purchased an EMG device on the sound advice of our medical director. The other devices popular at the time like EEG were always a bit sci-fi for practical hospital use. The GSR (electrodermal) had a lot of potential in psychotherapy through its capability to literally measure unconscious processes. The whole field sort of collapsed by the 1980s, as did contemporary constraint-induced movement therapy. These linger on but not really as the bread-&-butter routine techniques they promised to become.

So my movie-making gave me many flashbacks to the days I wore bell-bottoms and used biofeedback devices. I wonder if I’ll look back on my cheesy avatar movie experiments as a stillborn technology that never really made us all coffee table international media barons.

I can always stick with music videos. These I can put together in a fraction of the time as I only have one composite soundtrack to compile and I don’t have to synch the archive or other public domain video footage very precisely. But from an educational perspective these have very limited potential compared to what a good science documentary might achieve.

So I’ll persist. At the least, I should be able to get a simple repeatable format for science talk/slide shows. We’ve listened to a number of these from The Great Courses and found this traditional talk,slide sort of format quite sufficient for most topics. After all the real key software resides between the ears of the audience. Technology is supposed to be a means to an educational end.